Republican Congressman Steve Watkins has been charged with voter fraud relating to the November 2019 election, Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced Tuesday. Watkins, who represents Kansas' 2nd district, now faces three felony charges and a misdemeanor.
Kagay, a Republican, announced Watkins has been charged with interference with law enforcement by providing false information, voting without being qualified and unlawful advance voting, all of which are felonies. He's also been charged with the misdemeanor of failing to notify the DMV of a change in address.
The charges stem from a December 2019 investigation over Watkins using the address of a UPS Store in Topeka, Kansas, as his residential address on a voter registration form. While this address is still located in his congressional district, it was located in a city council district that had an election determined by just 13 votes in November 2019.
Watkins' charges were announced less than an hour before his Republican primary debate, and less than a month before the state's August 4 congressional primaries. At the debate, he called the charges "clearly hyper-political" and "very suspicious." He also said he hasn't yet seen the specific charges and that he looks "forward to setting the record straight."
"I haven't done anything wrong, as soon as I realized that I put my mailing address instead of my physical address, we fixed it… we've cooperated with the district attorney completely," he said at the debate. "My opponent shares a consultant with the DA, and that's pretty suspicious itself."
One of his two primary opponents, Kansas State Treasurer Jake LaTurner, attacked Watkins on the charges at the start of the debate, saying that the scandal could put the district at political risk.
"Steve Watkins has to take responsibility for what he's done and own up to it and deal with the legal issues that are heading his way. In the meantime the rest of us have to keep this seat in Republican hands," he said.
Watkins won this district, which lies just west of Kansas City, by less than a point in 2018. Following the announcement of Watkins' investigation, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which funneled more than $3 million to try and flip the seat in 2018, put the seat back on their target list.
"If you want to be trusted to write our laws, you should at least follow them," DCCC spokesperson Brooke Goren said in a statement. "Steve Watkins has proven that he can't pass this basic test, and it's clear why Kansans are ready for a change."
Democrats running include Topeka, Kansas, mayor Michelle De La Isla, and University of Kansas graduate teaching assistant James Windholz. Republicans LaTurner and former county commissioner Dennis Taylor are challenging Watkins for the primary.
"The allegations against Congressman Watkins are serious and I will leave it up to our legal system to vet them," De La Isla said in a statement. "In the meantime, I will continue working on the issues I hear about every day: the need for quality affordable healthcare and good paying jobs across our community."
In November 2019, Watkins was announced as the honorary co-chairman of Trump's re-election campaign and has been endorsed by Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.