Local authorities began investigating Watkins for potential voter fraud soon after the Capital-Journal's story broke. That culminated in Kagay's announcement Tuesday that he was charging the congressman with three felonies: “interference with law enforcement, providing false information,” “voting without being qualified,” and “unlawful advance voting.” Kagay also indicted Watkins for “failing to notify the DMV of change of address,” which is a misdemeanor.
Awkwardly for Watkins, the news came just half an hour before he was set to debate his intra-party rivals, LaTurner and former Brownback administration official Dennis Taylor. Watkins responded to the developments by insisting, “As soon as I realized that I had put my mailing address instead of my physical address, we fixed it,” and went on to argue, “Truly, the timing is suspicious.”
LaTurner had already begun attacking Watkins over the investigation before the indictment was issued: In an ad that launched last week, LaTurner stands in front of the UPS store at the center of the scandal and tells the audience that "this is where Congressman Steve Watkins claimed to live on his voter registration. Instead of Alaska, where he owns two homes." (According to the Kansas City Star, Watkins lived most of his adult life in Massachusetts and Alaska until he moved to Kansas not long before his congressional run.)
Watkins remained defiant on Wednesday, with a spokesperson telling Roll Call that the congressman would not resign his committee posts, even though the House GOP's own rules require him to do so. If Watkins doesn't budge, as Lindsey McPherson notes, that could compel Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to convene the Republican Steering Committee to forcibly oust him.
And that's not the only headache Watkins is giving the GOP. Kansas’ 2nd District backed Donald Trump 56-37, but Watkins only won his first term 48-47 last cycle. Democrats have a credible challenger in Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, and despite the district's red lean, Watkins' new legal travails could improve her odds in the general election if Republican primary voters are inclined to overlook them next month.
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