Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Rare charges of election fraud brought against GOP congressman

President Donald Trump and Rep. Steve Watkins

President Trump campaigned in Topeka for Steve Watkins during his first run for the House in 2018.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Time after time, serious attempts to uncover voting fraud have come up essentially empty — though no effort has been more dogged than by the Republicans in charge in Kansas. Now, an allegation has landed at their feet. The accused is a freshman GOP congressman from Topeka.

Rep. Steve Watkins was charged Tuesday with three felonies connected to the city's municipal election last year, apparently the first allegations of election cheating against a sitting member of Congress in more than two decades. He allegedly repeatedly signed documents listing a UPS store as his home address, allowing him to vote in a city council race decided by just 13 votes.

The case poses a nettlesome challenge for President Trump, who has spent the past four years wrongly asserting that voter fraud is rampant and GOP candidates are the principal victims — his rationale for opposing the liberalized use of mail ballots as he stands for re-election during the coronavirus pandemic.

Not only is Watkins a Republican who has voted the way the president wanted almost every time during his 18 months in office, but the most high-profile case of recent cheating involved Republican operatives and required a do-over of a North Carolina congressional election last year.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

About an hour after the charges were announced, Watkins dismissed them during his first debate against his two opponents in a competitive Aug. 4 primary. "This is clearly hyper-political," he said. "I haven't done anything wrong."

The district attorney of Shawnee County, Mike Kagay, is also a Republican. He charged Watkins with interfering with law enforcement by providing false information, voting without being qualified and unlawful advance voting. The congressman was also charged with failing to notify the state motor vehicle agency of his change of address,

According to the allegations, Watkins wrongly claimed the UPS store as his official residence when re-registering to vote last August, requested an absentee ballot in October and then voted to fill a seat on the council for a district more than two miles away from where he really lives.

At the debate, the congressman repeated the defense he's used since local media reported the discrepancies several months ago: He had accidentally put his UPS mailbox instead of his physical address on the forms and corrected the error as soon as it was brought to his attention.

In his first bid for office, Watkins secured the nomination for an open House seat with just 26 percent of vote in a seven-way primary in 2018, then won narrowly in what's normally a solidly Republican district.

His main GOP opponent in three weeks is state Treasurer Jake LaTurner, who dropped plans to run for the Senate in order to oppose Watkins. Democrats think they have a shot against either of them in November with Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla as their nominee, although Trump carried the district by 19 points four years ago

The congressman's spokesman issued a statement saying that the charges had been brought at the behest of LaTurner, who is a politically ally of the local prosecutor. "Just like President Trump," the statement said, "Steve is being politically prosecuted by his opponents who can't accept the results of the last election."

The 43-year-old congressman's problems do not end there. His father says he's being investigated by the Federal Election Commission for allegedly funneling money to friends and relatives in 2018 with the understanding they'd donate it to the Watkins campaign — which is illegal under federal law.

And the House GOP adopted rules two years ago requiring that members under felony indictment relinquish all seats on committees. Watkins is on the Education and Labor, Foreign Affairs, and Veterans Affairs' panels.

Read More

Flag being held out in front of Trump tower

Donald Trump supporters demonstrate in front of Trump Tower in New York a day after the former president was injured during shooting at campaign rally in Pennsylvania.

Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Democracy 2.0 will focus on compassion, not violence

By Sam Daley Harris

Daley-Harris is the author of “Reclaiming Our Democracy: Every Citizen’s Guide to Transformational Advocacy” and the founder of RESULTS and Civic Courage. This is part of a series focused on better understanding transformational advocacy: citizens awakening to their power.

Keep ReadingShow less
Secret Service agents covering Trump

Secret service agents cover former President Donald Trump after he was wounded in an assassination attempt July 13.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

It takes a team

Molineaux is the lead catalyst for American Future, a research project that discovers what Americans prefer for their personal future lives. The research informs community planners with grassroots community preferences. Previously, Molineaux was the president/CEO of The Bridge Alliance.

We love heroic leaders. We admire heroes and trust them to tackle our big problems. In a way, we like the heroes to take care of those problems for us, relieving us of our citizen responsibilities. But what happens when our leaders fail us? How do we replace a heroic leader who has become bloated with ego? Or incompetent?

Heroic leaders are good for certain times and specific challenges, like uniting people against a common enemy. We find their charisma and inspiration compelling. They help us find our courage to tackle things together. We become a team, supporting the hero’s vision.

Keep ReadingShow less
USAID flag outside a building
J. David Ake/Getty Images

Project 2025: U.S. Agency for International Development

Breslin is the Joseph C. Palamountain Jr. Chair of Political Science at Skidmore College and author of “A Constitution for the Living: Imagining How Five Generations of Americans Would Rewrite the Nation’s Fundamental Law.”

This is part of a series offering a nonpartisan counter to Project 2025, a conservative guideline to reforming government and policymaking during the first 180 days of a second Trump administration. The Fulcrum's cross partisan analysis of Project 2025 relies on unbiased critical thinking, reexamines outdated assumptions, and uses reason, scientific evidence, and data in analyzing and critiquing Project 2025.

South African divestment is the most famous, and likely most successful, global pressure campaign in recent memory. The enemy was the minority white elites who conceived, implemented and perpetuated apartheid, the incomprehensibly malevolent scheme of legally sanctioned racial separation. These racists got their just desserts when company after company, government after government, and individual after individual pulled their resources. Eventually, the South African economy strained, leaders were toppled and the country began its long march toward moral reclamation.

Keep ReadingShow less
American flag
SimpleImages/Getty Images

Quite simply, fairness matters

Sturner, the author of “Fairness Matters,” is the managing partner of Entourage Effect Capital. Meyers is the executive editor of The Fulcrum.

This is the first entry in the “Fairness Matters” series, examining structural problems with the current political systems, critical policies issues that are going unaddressed and the state of the 2024 election.

Our path forward as a nation requires that we send a resounding message to Washington that fairness matters. That proportional representation needs to be the heart and soul of our political system because, right now, the far left and the far right are disproportionately represented. Meanwhile, "we the people" are not nearly as polarized as our legislatures, and that is by design.

The absence of fairness (some real and some perceived) is driving the political dysfunction in our country today. The vast majority of the American public wakes up every day and we go to work. We are moderate in our views on most issues, mostly just to the right or left of center. Most of us value common sense in our lives and strive to find a way to peacefully get through our days, to enable us to care for our loved ones while trying to make better lives for ourselves and our children.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

Keep ReadingShow less