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Kansas congressman hit by farmers' backlash

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 31, 2014 at 1:16 am •  Published: July 31, 2014

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Eleven biofuel plants dot the vast expanse of western and central Kansas, where farm fields stretch to the horizon and corn and sorghum are the backbone of the rural economy.

So when the Republican congressman who represents the area co-sponsored a bill that would cut demand for biofuels by phasing out a federal renewable energy program, many of his rural constituents took note. Their anger is now coming back to haunt U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp in the waning days before the Aug. 5 GOP primary.

Huelskamp, a tea party favorite and Kansas farmer known for his criticism of the GOP leadership in Washington, is locked in an unexpectedly tough race with a political novice as he seeks a third two-year term. His challenger, Alan LaPolice, a farmer and educator, supports the renewable energy standards, which mandate a percentage of renewable fuels in gasoline.

Like some others swept into office in the tea party class of 2010 that helped the Republicans capture the House majority, Huelskamp is finding that a strict free-market ideology and local economic interests can be tough to balance.

A political action committee, Now or Never, has dumped more than $260,000 into the race to oppose Huelskamp, regulatory filings show. The group's ads feature Tom Willis, a Kansas farmer and president of Conestoga Energy Partners, which owns ethanol plants in Liberal and Garden City that make fuel from corn.

Willis said the majority of the Now or Never PAC money being spent on the race comes from Kansas people who are involved in agricultural and ethanol in the state.

The ethanol industry has been the "best success story for rural America" in the last 20 years, Willis said in an interview. Willis said Huelskamp was "willing to put all that at risk for his ideology."

The Kansas Corn Growers Association, the Kansas Farm Bureau, the Kansas Association of Ethanol Processors and the Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association also weighed in this week with a scathing joint statement criticizing Huelskamp.

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