WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Former Kansas Congressman Todd Tiahrt repeatedly assailed U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo’s effectiveness representing the economic interests of his south-central Kansas district, seeking to use their first face-to-face forum Monday as a launching pad for a political comeback.
“I can’t sit by and see all the hard work I put in deteriorate,” Tiahrt said during the luncheon event before the Wichita Crime Commission.
Pompeo parried each attack, and lobbed a few of his own, in the hotly-contested race that pits two conservative Republicans vying for the Kansas Congressional 4th District seat. Pompeo is seeking a third, two-year term during the August GOP primary. The winner will face Democrat Perry Schuckman in November.
Tiahrt held the seat from 1995 until 2011. He did not seek re-election in 2010 to run for the U.S. Senate, but lost in the Republican primary to Jerry Moran, who went on to win the U.S. Senate seat. Pompeo was elected in 2010 to replace Tiahrt in the House, swept into office with the tea party class that year.
“I’m on a mission in Washington, D.C., to shrink the size and scope of government,” Pompeo told about 100 people at the debate.
Tiahrt took the offensive from the opening moments of the forum, likening Washington, D.C., today to a “train wreck” and saying lawmakers there “can’t get along” to pass significant legislation. Tiahrt said he decided to run because of his concerns about the local and national economy, and a desire to return the House seat “to the people” rather than the special interest groups he contends Pompeo represents. Tiahrt has boasted during the campaign about the work he did for the district in using earmarks to bring federal money to fund expansions aircraft companies, flood control project, and other local needs. Earmarks are a device used in Congress to attach special provisions to bills at the behest of specific members for interest in their districts. Some Republicans have opposed them as wasteful spending.
But at his turn, Pompeo criticized Tiahrt for that use of earmarks, noting some Republicans still want to bring them back. Pompeo called the earmarks corrupting and argued the money should have stayed in the pockets of the people rather than sent to the federal government in the first place.
It was an argument that Tiahrt relished: “I will take criticism for taking earmarks and fighting for our district,” he retorted. Instead of getting earmarks today, Tiahrt said, lawmakers are doing the same thing with what he calls special interest legislation, such as a bill that seeks to ban the labeling of genetically modified foods — legislation backed by agricultural giants such as Monsanto.
Pompeo defended his support of the GMO labeling ban, saying he voted for it on behalf of Kansas farmers, not Monsanto.
Koch Industries, the nation’s second-largest private company and owned by brothers Charles and David Koch, is headquartered in Wichita. Melissa Cohlmia, spokeswoman for Koch Industries, said its employee political action committee has contributed the maximum amount to Pompeo’s campaign and is supporting his candidacy.
Tiahrt also played the aggressor in criticizing Pompeo for his continuing support of National Security Agency surveillance tactics, noting Pompeo voted last month against new limits on NSA surveillance pushed through by an unusual coalition of libertarian Republicans and liberal Democrats.
Pompeo countered that Tiahrt himself was once on the intelligence committee during the Bush Administration: “He knows better than to parrot Edward Snowden,” he said in a reference to the former NSA analyst whose year-old revelations of bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone records still roil the debate of security versus privacy. Pompeo, who sponsored legislation he says would adequately protect American citizen’s phone calls and emails, called Tiahrt’s attacks on that issue “more than disingenuous, it is dangerous.”
Pushing back on an issue that has become central to his campaign, Tiahrt asserted that Pompeo’s legislation did nothing to protect Americans against surveillance, while noting Pompeo repeatedly voted against bills that would have protected those privacy rights. Tiahrt also pointed out that the expansion in surveillance occurred during the Obama Administration, after he had already left office.
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