Rep. Steve Watkins not giving up committee posts amid felony charges on voter fraud

House GOP rules require members facing felony conviction to relinquish panel assignments until matter is resolved

Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins is not giving up his House committee assignments after being charged with felony voter fraud. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins is not giving up his House committee assignments after being charged with felony voter fraud. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 15, 2020 at 3:33pm, Updated at 6:03pm

Clarified, 6 p.m. | Kansas Republican Rep. Steve Watkins is not planning to resign from his committee assignments after being charged Tuesday with felony voter fraud.

House GOP Conference rules say that any member “indicted for a felony for which a sentence of two or more years imprisonment may be imposed, shall submit his or her resignation from any such committees to the House promptly.” The rules allow for the member to be reinstated to committees on acquittal or if the charges are dismissed or reduced to less than a felony. 

[Kansas GOP Rep. Steve Watkins charged with voter fraud]

Watkins faces three felony charges and one misdemeanor following an investigation into allegations he illegally voted in a Topeka election in 2019; he has denied wrongdoing.

The charges were filed after the Shawnee County district attorney received a charging affidavit from the sheriff’s office. The filing of charges is subject to approval by a judge.

“He has not and does not plan to do so,” Watkins spokesman Dylan Jones said in response to a CQ Roll Call inquiry as to whether the congressman had resigned his seats on the Foreign Affairs, Veterans’ Affairs and Education and Labor committees.  

Jones did not respond to a follow-up email asking for further explanation.

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Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay charged Watkins on Tuesday with felonies regarding interference with law enforcement, providing false information, voting without being qualified and unlawful advance voting, as well as a misdemeanor charge of failing to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of a change of address.

Watkins allegedly listed a UPS store address on his voter registration form.

Appearing in a GOP primary debate shortly after the news broke, Watkins called the charges “a sideshow” and “very suspicious,” noting the timing shortly before the Aug. 4 primary.

“I’ve done nothing wrong and look forward to setting the record straight,” said Watkins, who faces two GOP challengers in his bid for a second term representing Kansas’ 2nd District.

Watkins is not the only Republican to resist giving up his committee assignments after facing felony charges.

Former California Rep. Duncan Hunter, who resigned in January, a month after pleading guilty in federal court to using hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for his own enrichment, initially declined to give up his committee seats after his indictment.

After Hunter was indicted on Aug. 21, 2018, Speaker Paul D. Ryan quickly issued a statement saying Hunter would be removed from his committee assignments.

But Hunter initially declined to cooperate, forcing GOP leaders to plan to gather the Republican Steering Committee, which has jurisdiction over committee posts, to vote to formally strip him of the assignments. Ultimately, Hunter relented and resigned from his committees before the Steering Committee met.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment about Watkins’ unwillingness to give up his committee assignments and whether the Steering Committee would vote to force his hand.

Clarification: This story and its headlines were updated to make clear the process by which the prosecutor sought charges against Watkins.