Kansas GOP House candidate denies mulling run as Democrat
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas Republican candidate for Congress is denying claims from three Democratic officials that he considered running as a Democrat and expressed socially liberal views before announcing as a GOP candidate last year.
Steve Watkins, an Army veteran seeking the GOP nomination in Kansas’ 2nd District, met with the Democrats at the Shawnee Democratic Party headquarters in Topeka in August 2017 when he was considering launching a campaign, The Kansas City Star reported .
Ty Dragoo, the Democratic vice chairman for the 2nd District, said Watkins was trying to determine if the party would support him and expressed liberal social views during the meeting, including supporting labor unions, sensible gun laws and LGBT rights.
“He sounded like a Kansas Democratic Party member,” Dragoo said. “His social views were liberal.”
Watkins disputed Dragoo’s characterization of the meeting.
“I was not at any point looking to run as a Democrat, nor was I ever approached about running as a Democrat,” Watkins said. “I was taking some meetings with political types . and an associate advised me to reach out to Ty. At some point, I realized he had arranged the meeting to take place at the Democratic HQ. I didn’t back down from that. I’ve met with insurgents and warlords.”
Watkins, 41, said he didn’t participate when the Democrats expanded the discussion to include more liberal policies.
He announced his campaign as a Republican in November, four months after the meeting took place.
The Star reported it could find no evidence that Watkins ever voted or registered to vote before he voted last year in a local Topeka election, shortly before he announced his candidacy. Watkins said he couldn’t recall if he ever registered but he was well known of his conservative views as a graduate student at Harvard University after he left the Army in 2004.
He agreed to the meeting because he wanted to learn about transportation policy after being told by an adviser Dragoo was a transportation lobbyist, Watkins said.
Dragoo is the state legislative director for the Kansas chapter of SMART, a union that represents transportation workers. He called The Star about the 2017 meeting after seeing Watkins support a Supreme Court ruling that limits the ability of public sector unions to collect fees. Watkins said he didn’t know Dragoo was a union representative until being told by the newspaper Thursday.
Luke Domme, a Shawnee Democratic Party’s vice chairman and a business representative for the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ union, was at the meeting and supported Dragoo’s contention that Watkins was trying to decide whether to run as a Democrat or Republican.
Sarah Coats, a Democratic candidate for the Kansas Legislature, also attended the meeting and said Watkins expressed fiscal conservatism but more liberal views on social issues.
“He said that he thought he was too much of a moderate, so he was really interested in being in the Democratic Party,” she said.
Watkins said he was surprised that Coats was at the meeting. He also denied that Domme attended but the three Democrats said Domme set up the meeting and was there.
“The politics were middle of the road to me,” Domme said of Watkins. “I didn’t expect him to immediately swing to the Republicans.”
Watkins said the Democrats are bringing up the meeting now because they “want to damage me because they know I stand the best chance of beating Democratic front runner Paul Davis in the general election.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com