Republican Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins was charged with three felonies and one misdemeanor Tuesday over allegations that the congressman voted illegally during a 2019 local election.
Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced he was charging Watkins on four counts: providing false information, voting without being qualified, unlawful advanced voting and failing to notify the DMV of a change of address, CBS-affiliated 13 WIBW reported. The first three counts are felony charges while the fourth is a misdemeanor charge.
Here’s the news release on the charges against Rep. Steve Watkins. pic.twitter.com/xmTMvHZH9t
— Rob Zerwekh (@zerwekh) July 14, 2020
Watkins came under investigation following allegations that he listed a Topeka UPS store as his address when voting in a local election in 2019. Kagay took over the investigation in April, although the District Attorney’s office faced a significant delay due to the coronavirus, according to NBC-affiliated KSNT.
The charges were announced just 30 minutes before Watkins was set to take part in a televised primary debate, The Hill reported. The first-term congressman, who represents Kansas’ 2nd congressional district, faces primary challenges from Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner and Dennis Taylor, who previously held a number of state and federal positions.
During the debate, Watkins claimed the criminal charges were an attempt to undermine his campaign, according to The Hill. In a tweet Tuesday, the campaign compared Watkins to President Donald Trump and claimed he was being “politically prosecuted by his opponents.”
— Steve Watkins (@Steve4Kansas) July 15, 2020
His opponents argued that Watkins’ criminal charges could hinder the Republican Party’s efforts to hold on to the congressional seat, The Hill reported. The winner of the August primary would go on to face Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in November.
“She is well-funded. She is a candidate supported by Nancy Pelosi. We need to put our best foot forward,” LaTurner said of their presumptive Democratic challenger. (RELATED: GOP Lawmakers Urge Attorney General To Defend St. Louis Couple’s Gun Rights After Firearm Confiscation)
Kansas Republican chair Mike Kuckelman said that the charges were “disappointing,” adding that the “timing of it is difficult for Congressman Watkins,” the Kansas City Star reported. “Everyone who is charged is innocent until proven guilty and we have to wait for the trial. He should have a trial and see what the jury decides,” he said.