LIBERAL, Kan. (AP) — The Republican congressman from the sprawling 1st District of western and central Kansas has found himself increasingly on the defensive while campaigning in the GOP primary race back home.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a tea party favorite and Kansas farmer known for his criticism of the GOP leadership in Washington, is seeking a third two-year term to represent this agricultural district. At the end of 2012, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio stripped Huelskamp of the farm state's nearly automatic seat on the House Agriculture Committee. A member of the Kansas delegation had served on that panel for nearly 100 years.
"I am not going to walk the Republican line. I will not let anybody in Washington tell me what to do," Huelskamp told his constituents during a debate in Liberal this week. "It is your job to tell me what to do."
When a voter asked him why he opposed the farm bill, Huelskamp replied that "my farmers and ranchers" want regulatory relief and not handouts. Huelskamp said the farm bill is mostly about food stamps, and he said people should "go to work as part of receiving food stamps from Washington."
Some of his other votes have also left some of his constituents back home scratching their heads. He riled Kansans when he didn't support wind energy tax credits or funds for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan. Kansas, one of the nation's windiest states, is home to a major wind turbine manufacturer and several wind plants. The bio security lab is being built in Huelskamp's own district.
Huelskamp is challenged in this year's GOP primary by Alan LaPolice, a Clyde farmer and educator who has made the dysfunction in Congress — and more specifically Huelskamp's apparent unwillingness to work with other Republicans — the centerpiece of his campaign. The balance of power among the executive, legislative and judicial branches has been upended, leaving Congress effectively powerless and leading to executive overreach, agency overreach and judicial activism, LaPolice said.
"Congress is the most powerful organized body in this world. They can exact some serious change if they put their minds to it," LaPolice said. "They can accomplish nothing and be labeled the most do-nothing Congress if they continue to bicker and act like children."
Still, Huelskamp remains popular with his supporters in this staunchly conservative, mostly rural district for taking a stand for what he believes. He opposed legislation raising the federal debt ceiling and ending the partial shutdown of the federal government. He has been a vocal critic of the federal health overhaul as well as the administration's environmental policies and its oversight of veterans' services.
He has held the seat for the strongly Republican district since 2011 and had no opposition to his re-election in 2012. Nearly 53 percent of the 1st District's registered voters are Republicans, making it the most GOP of the four districts in the Republican-leaning state.
Huelskamp told his constituents that he is "fighting for our way of life" and blamed the dysfunction in government on President Barack Obama and his administration for their unwillingness to compromise.
"As a Republican, I'll admit the Republican leadership is not willing to do their job," Huelskamp said.
Little differentiates the two conservative GOP candidates when it comes to bread-and-butter Republican issues like cutting federal spending and taxes, railing against health care reform, opposing abortion, and curtailing perceived overreaches by the Internal Revenue Service or the Environmental Protection Agency. But LaPolice has repeatedly attacked Huelskamp for being unable to advance those GOP causes because he cannot work together with Republican leaders, telling him during the debate, "You can't go in there and fight with everybody."
"We need to replace all members of Congress right now, but we only have access to replacing one," LaPolice said.
Also vying for the Kansas 1st District seat in the general election are two Democratic candidates: Jim Sherow, a Kansas State University history professor and former Manhattan mayor; and Bryan Whitney, a 2013 graduate of Wichita State University from Syracuse. David Joyce, a truck driver from Abilene, has also filed as an Independent.