Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced he was charging Watkins, a first-term lawmaker, on four counts: 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 Shawnee County court records.
The first three charges are felonies, and the fourth is a misdemeanor.
Watkins reportedly registered the address of a Topeka UPS store as his home address for the 2019 municipal election and allegedly voted in the wrong city council district.
The Kansas Republican has acknowledged the error in the past, according to the Topeka Capitol-Journal, which first reported that Watkins had signed the allegedly improper address on voter-registration documents. The lawmaker’s office later said Watkins made a mistake in his registration.
Kagay, a Republican, announced the charges roughly 30 minutes before Watkins was set to take the stage with his GOP challengers for a televised primary debate. Kagay’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill about the charges.
Watkins’s campaign blasted the indictment and argued that it was politically motivated, pointing to the timing of the announcement. The first-term lawmaker is facing stiff primary challenges from Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner and moderate Dennis Taylor.
“Give us a break. 30 minutes before the first televised debate and the day before early voting starts, the DA – who shares a political consultant with our primary opponent Jake LaTurner – files these bogus charges. They couldn’t have been more political if they tried,” Watkins spokesman Bryan Piligra said in a statement.
“Just like President TrumpDonald John TrumpWayfair refutes QAnon-like conspiracy theory that it’s trafficking children Stone rails against US justice system in first TV interview since Trump commuted his sentence Federal appeals court rules Trump admin can’t withhold federal grants from California sanctuary cities MORE, Steve is being politically prosecuted by his opponents who can’t accept the results of the last election. Kansans and Americans are tired of these kinds of silly games. This is a desperate political attack by a desperate political campaign on its last dying breath down twenty points. Jake LaTurner is hell-bent on seeing Democrat’s win and undermining Republicans at every turn.”
At Tuesday night’s debate, Watkins sought to cast the charges as an attempt to undercut his reelection campaign, saying that polls showing him leading had led to “desperation and endless investigations just like Donald Trump” and that he would “get my name exonerated.”
His opponents pounced on the charges, claiming they could hinder Republicans’ ability to hold onto the seat in November if Watkins wins the GOP nomination.
“She is well-funded. She is a candidate supported by Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi70 progressive groups call for next Foreign Affairs chair to reflect ‘progressive realism’ House to vote next week on ridding Capitol of Confederate statues Eye on gavel, Wasserman Schultz proposes panel on racial inequality in spending MORE. We need to put our best foot forward,” LaTurner said of Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, the presumptive Democratic nominee. “Clearly, our current congressman with three felony charges and a misdemeanor charge is not the person to do that.”
Democrats also seized on the charges, suggesting Watkins could not be “trusted.”
“If you want to be trusted to write our laws, you should at least follow them. Steve Watkins has proven that he can’t pass this basic test, and it’s clear why Kansans are ready for a change. At a time when voters are sick of corruption and scandal in Washington, Mayor Michelle De La Isla has proven that she has the character and the track record to be that change,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Brooke Goren.
No announcements have yet been made as to whether the charges will impact Watkins’s standing on Capitol Hill, but the House GOP passed rules in 2018 mandating that members lose their committee assignments if they are indicted.
Updated: 11:30 p.m.
– Juliegrace Brufke contributed reporting.
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