By Jim Ellis
July 16, 2020 — On Tuesday night, within an hour of him stepping onto a congressional debate stage in Kansas, freshman Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Topeka) was indicted in state court. He is charged with 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 Shawnee County District Attorney’s office as reported in The Hill newspaper.Immediately Rep. Watkins claimed the timing of the indictments was politically motivated, though Republican District Attorney Mike Kagay naturally denied that was the case. Still, being charged three weeks before the primary election on what should be considered a minor activity that is treated as a felony, i.e., where a person declares his residence and whether he voted in a different city council district race that didn’t comply with his stated residence, arguably opens the DA’s actions to legitimate criticism.
The base controversy surrounds Watkins registering to vote at a UPS postal center in 2018. The congressman claims he made a mistake on the voter registration form by listing his mailing address rather than his street address. In a 2019 Topeka municipal election, Watkins apparently voted in the district race that housed the UPS store location he used as his mailing address, which is different from that of his stated residence; hence, the vote fraud charge.
Questions surrounding Watkins’ residence have been raised since he returned to Kansas to run for the open 2nd District seat. He re-located to Topeka after spending time in the military and living for most of the past few years in Alaska where he participates in the annual Iditarod races.
Attacking the residence issue, Rep. Watkins’ principal Republican primary opponent, Kansas state Treasurer Jake LaTurner, was already running an ad about the congressman registering to vote at the UPS store and owning two homes in Alaska “but none in Topeka” before the indictments came down, and now such residency issues will likely be at the forefront of the remaining three weeks in the primary cycle.
The Watkins controversy, however, does not end with the freshman congressman. His father, Dr. Steve Watkins Sr., a local Topeka physician, is reportedly under a Federal Election Commission investigation for allegedly making contributions in the name of another that combined exceeded his maximum individual limits. According to a Politico news story, Dr. Watkins confirms he is under investigation for giving money to his family members and associates in order for them to contribute to the congressional campaign. This is would be a serious charge that normally carries prison time. To date, no charges have been filed against Dr. Watkins.