A Republican lawmaker in the heart of Trump country has been indicted, putting his political future in jeopardy.
Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins was indicted last week on charges of voter fraud, the Washington Examiner reported. The charges have provided an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats alike to strike at the embattled freshman congressman, who is in the midst of a tough primary battle ahead of November’s election, where he hopes to maintain his House seat.
Of course, the indictment isn’t helping that effort. Watkins stepped down from his committee assignments on Friday in the wake of the charges, which, according to The Hill, include “interference with law enforcement, providing false information, voting without being qualified, unlawful advance voting, and failing to notify the DMV of change of address.”
According to The Hill, the lawmaker is accused of having broken the law by voting improperly in a 2019 local election. Indictments over the matter came Tuesday, according to the Examiner, just ahead of a TV debate in which Watkins squared off with two Republican primary challengers — Jake LaTurner and Dennis Taylor — for the seat he barely won in 2018.
Watkins claimed at the debate that it was simply a mistake when he marked down a UPS store as his home address before voting in a city council race, The New York Times reported.
“This is clearly hyper-political,” Watkins added at the debate, as the Times reported. “It comes out moments before our first debate and three weeks before the election. I haven’t done anything wrong.” The Republican said later in the week that the charges against him are “bogus.”
“Throughout my entire career, I have put service above myself, and this instance is no different,” he said in a statement Friday, according to The Hill. “That’s why I’ve chosen to temporarily and voluntarily step aside from my committees, allow the committees to continue their critical work, and fight these bogus charges.”
Putting “our best foot forward”
It remains to be seen, however, whether the charges against Watkins will cost him — and the Republican Party — a ruby-red district that Trump easily carried in the 2016 election. As the Examiner noted, Trump won Kansas’ 2nd congressional district by nearly 20 points in the last election cycle, but Watkins won the district in the 2018 midterm elections by fewer than 3,000 votes.
Sensing an opportunity to poach, Dems supporting Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla have wasted no time ramping up pressure on the embattled Republican as liberal media outlets and even rivals within the GOP emphasize his vulnerability. At Tuesday night’s debate, Watkins’ primary challengers didn’t let him off the hook.
“We need to put our best foot forward,” LaTurner said, according to the Examiner. “Clearly our current congressman, with three felony charges and a misdemeanor charge, is not the person to do that.”
It all comes as Republican Party faces withering attacks from constituents for failing to stand up to violent unrest across the nation, and as uncertainty over President Donald Trump’s prospects in November drives speculation of a rout in one or both houses of Congress.
In some cases, like these, it’s not the political lay of the land so much as the actions of an individual that count, however. Republicans can’t afford any more weakness in their ranks, and at this point, Watkins is simply a liability.