Today in Johnson County, Kansas, District Attorney Phill Kline faces a Republican primary fight today which promises to be tight. Kline recently took a few minutes out of his campaign and work to take some questions from National Review Online Editor Kathryn Lopez.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why are you running? Phill Kline: Because our community’s approach to law enforcement needs to be changed. The previous administration flat out refused to turn cases over to federal authorities when it was more appropriate to do so. That’s not my approach. After September 11, 2001, we know that criminals run through jurisdictional gaps, and I will close those gaps. Law enforcement cannot be about turf wars, it must be about putting the bad guys behind bars no matter what. And as we now know, the previous administration — which includes both of my current opponents, spent the last 15 years looking the other way when it came to enforcing certain laws.
Lopez: Is this election about George Tiller?
Kline: No, this election about me trying to defeat the media’s portrayal of who I am and what I stand for. Two years ago, most of the people in this community were told by the local media that I was focused on one issue. That’s simply not true. I’ve personally put away two murderers, a rapist, and a child molester. Our office has the highest jury trial conviction rate in five years. The guy who ran against me in 2006 has now resigned from office after a scandal. The fiction of 2006 has given way to the reality of 2008. This community has seen the real Phill Kline. So this election is about my real record versus the fictional things people have been told.
Lopez: Why is it that your name has become synonymous with abortion?
Kline: For years, I was known in Kansas as an anti-tax fiscal conservative. It wasn’t until the Kansas media learned I was investigating two abortion clinics for potential criminal violations that the abortion issue became synonymous with my name. The results of the investigation are undeniable — four different judges found probable cause to believe crimes were committed by two clinics in Kansas. And because I swore an oath to enforce the law, I will not back down. Planned Parenthood knows this — they had over a billion dollars in revenue last year, and they stand to lose $350 million in taxpayer dollars if they are convicted. So they aren’t going to back down either. There is a lot at stake and the entire nation is paying attention to this one case I have — just one — in about 12,000 that have come through my office in the past 18 months.
Lopez: What’s been your greatest accomplishment for the voters of Kansas? Kline: Establishing the Cybercrimes Task Force was significant. During the first years of operation, it put over 100 internet predators behind bars, and it has been used a model for other states across the nation. As District Attorney, I’ve also established a Special Assistant United States Attorney (SAUSA) program which closes jurisdictional gaps between federal and state laws — which is especially important here in Kansas City, because it sits on the border of Kansas and Missouri.
Lopez: You’re gotten criticism for supposedly having out of proportion out-of-state support. Are you a puppet of James Dobson? Kline: First of all, I’ve received more support inside the state of Kansas than my opponent. In the past six weeks, we’ve raised nearly $90,000 for the primary campaign — more than my opponent raised in 18 months. Most of that is from Kansas, however we are extremely grateful for the support we’ve gotten from around the nation. The case against Planned Parenthood has gained national attention because it is the first time they have ever been charged criminally. When I announced that I was seeking re-election, we received a lot of emails and phone calls from folks asking how they could help. In response, my campaign team set up www.StandwithPhill.com to better tell the story of what is happening in Kansas. Around the nation, people are concerned that if the law can be ignored in Kansas, it can be ignored in other states too. Planned Parenthood is not above the law I appreciate the support of many national leaders in this fight, including Dr. Dobson. But it’s important that people know that as a prosecutor I will discharge the duties of my office and uphold the law regardless of who supports me.
Lopez: Doesn’t the election necessarily become about abortion when Dobson endorses you? Kline: I don’t think so. Dr. Dobson rarely endorses people, but when he does, it’s more a testament to the character of the candidate than a particular issue. I’m proud to have his support and that of other national leaders.
Lopez: What’s your beef with Planned Parenthood? Kline: I don’t have a “beef” with them — as long as they follow the law. I have alleged — and judges agree that I have probable cause to do so — that Planned Parenthood violated state laws in my jurisdiction, and that’s it. I haven’t talked much about the specifics of the case yet, so most of the rhetoric and noise you are hearing has been generated by those who have something at stake in the case.
Lopez: Do pro-choicers agree with your approach? Kline: Overwhelmingly — when they know the facts. Sixty-five percent of the people in this community believe in my investigation once they learn the truth. But many have been told that my investigation is a “fishing expedition.” That’s outright false. As a prosecutor, I can’t issue subpoenas. Judges do that based on evidence. We’ve presented evidence and they agree that there is probable cause to believe Planned Parenthood violated the law, and the judges have issued subpoenas when I’ve shown them the evidence. It’s really that simple, and once people understand that, they support my efforts.
Lopez: Is judicial activism a problem in Kansas?
Kline: When I was attorney general, our supreme court struck down the Kansas death penalty law. But just a few years earlier, in the very same case, the law was upheld. The only difference was three new justices — two of which were appointed by Governor Sebelius. I appealed their activist ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court and won a reversal, which reinstated the death penalty in Kansas. That is just one example. Kansas is one of only a few states that still uses an arcane “merit selection” process where voters don’t have a say in the judicial-selection process. That very issue is on the November ballot in this county and I hope we scrap the old system and put the voters back in charge.
Lopez: What’s the most important issue in your race?
Kline: Experience and a willingness to enforce the law — no matter what the personal consequences. Everyone already knows I will stand up and do what is right no matter what. What some don’t know is that my experience dwarfs that of my opponent. I’ve managed multimillion dollar budgets, large staffs, and appeared in court rooms across the nation. I’ve won Prosecutor of the Year Awards, managed over 60 homicide cases, personally put away rapists and murderers. My opponent has done none of those things. And worse, he’s been endorsed by a liberal group here in Kansas called the MAINstream Coalition, which actively opposes my efforts to enforce the law.