TOPEKA, Kan. – Freshman Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins lost his Republican primary Tuesday after being charged with felony election fraud and other crimes.
State Treasurer Jake LaTurner unseated Watkins after arguing that the criminal charges against Watkins made an already vulnerable incumbent an even worse bet with Democrats sensing an opportunity to pick up the 2nd District seat in eastern Kansas despite its Republican leanings. Watkins had largely toed the conservative line and vocally supported President Donald Trump in Congress.
“It’s time to look to the future,” LaTurner told his supporters at a Topeka hotel. “It’s time to unite this party.”
Watkins told reporters he called LaTurner to congratulate him and to wish him well in November, adding he personally would like to be part of Republican unity this November.
“I will continue to work to the best of my ability 'til the very last day that I serve,” Watkins said.
The charges against Watkins were filed in state district court his home of Shawnee County just three weeks before the election and arose from his listing a postal box at a UPS Inc. store as his residence on a state voter registration form.
Watkins and LaTurner battled for the GOP nomination with Dennis Taylor, a Topeka lawyer and businessman with a long career in state and local government that has included heading several state agencies. Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla won the Democratic nomination easily over James Windholz, a University of Kansas graduate student and instructor.
Jeanie Schuler, a 65-year-old retired health insurance director from Topeka, voted for LaTurner, saying that he’s “more trustworthy” than Watkins. The felony charges against Watkins influenced her vote, she said.