Mike Pompeo and Todd Tiahrt traded barbs and sparred over a number of issues in their first forum in the GOP primary campaign for the 4th District congressional seat.
Topics at Monday’s forum included earmarks, immigration, NSA surveillance of Americans, even the travel habits of the two candidates. About 90 people attended the forum hosted by the Wichita Crime Commission at the Scotch and Sirloin Restaurant in Wichita.
Tiahrt, who held the seat for 16 years until making a failed bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010, defended his use of earmarks by citing the $1 million he secured for the Wichita Police Department to help catch the BTK serial killer, Dennis Rader.
“I will take the criticism of doing earmarks and fighting for my district because I would rather see that money come here than New York City or Los Angeles where Mr. Pompeo is from,” Tiahrt said.
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He said that if elected, he would continue to listen to problems in the district and fight to resolve them in Washington, which he said isn’t happening with Pompeo.
Pompeo, who has held the seat since 2010, called earmarks “the gateway drug to corruption” and said the BTK earmark didn’t arrive until Dennis Rader was behind bars.
“That’s not true,” Tiarht interjected. He later said the check was cashed before Rader was caught.
Pompeo said money should be left at home, not taken to Washington, D.C., and used for earmarks determined by Congress.
He said Tiahrt also used earmarks for projects that had nothing to do with Kansas, such as a pier in San Francisco and a company in Colorado Springs that Tiahrt later worked for.
“Earmarking is a terrible practice,” Pompeo said. “Kansans are losers, and it’s the deficits that will destroy America that have followed in part from earmarking.”
Tiahrt cited other Kansas earmarks he obtained, including for railroad overpasses and levees in the district, as well as tornado-proof rooms in district schools.
Earmarks are no longer allowed in Congress.
Tiahrt said Congress has replaced earmarks by coming up with legislation requested by lobbyists. He cited Pompeo’s bill to restrict the labeling of genetically modified foods, benefitting the Monsanto company.
Pompeo defended the legislation as being good for farmers in Kansas and America.
Tiahrt also accused Pompeo of voting against limits on NSA spying on Americans. He said that when he was in office, he demanded court approval and warrants on every email and phone call as part of the Patriot Act that he voted for.
“You know what’s corrupt?” Tiahrt said. “Taking money from lobbyists and supporting the violation of the Fourth Amendment of our constitution.”
Pompeo said the first major change to the Patriot Act since it was passed was an amendment by him, called the Pompeo Amendment, which said the NSA can’t listen to American’s phone calls or read emails. It’s now part of the law, he said.
Pompeo said it was dangerous for Tiahrt, as a former congressman who was on the Intelligence Committee when the new security measures were created, to mislead people about what the NSA is doing and what it is not doing.
“It is unconscionable to see someone who knows better talk about this program this way, and sound just like Edward Snowden in the New York Times, instead of someone who has as their principal function keeping America safe,” Pompeo said.
Tiahrt said the Pompeo Amendment only re-stated the bill and didn’t limit the NSA intrusion that is taking place under President Obama.
“On my watch, we abided by Fourth Amendment restrictions,” Tiahrt said.
On immigration, Pompeo said Tiahrt co-sponsored the Dream Act, encouraging young people to come to America, which has led to humanitarian and national security problems.
“We have to close our borders, we have to secure them, and when we do that we can set up a lawful, rational immigration policy that is consistent with the finest in American traditions.”
Tiahrt said he didn’t sponsor the Dream Act. He sponsored two bills that respect states’ rights and allowed children applying for citizenship to apply for loans.
“That’s significantly different than the Dream Act,” he said.
At one point, Tiahrt challenged Pompeo to show his passport revealing all the countries he has visited while in office. Pompeo responded by naming some of those countries, including Afghanistan, Egypt, Ukraine, and Belgium, which he visited in relation to his work as a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Tiahrt traveled four times to Hawaii with his family while in office, Pompeo said.
“This is pettiness,” Pompeo said. “This is the kind of thing that people have come to hate about Washington. It’s why good people don’t run for office, because they’re going to have these childish attacks.”
In a closing statement, Pompeo said he wasn’t running for office because it was the best job he could get, implying that that was Tiarht’s motive for running.
“I’m on a mission to shrink the size and scope of the federal government, and I’m going to work on it and work on it, and when I’ve accomplished as much as possible, I can’t wait to get back to the private sector, can’t wait to get back to the real world where you all live every day, so that I can be part of that once again.”
Tiahrt said in his closing statement that he was running because the local and national economies were in trouble and he wanted to return the seat to the people of the district.
“It’s all about money in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “It has to be about us. It has to be about public service. It’s probably time to reconsider who we’re going to hire next time. It’s time to think about who did a good job of fighting for this local economy, who did a good job of listening to us, who was there when we needed him. I was there.”
The candidates are scheduled to appear together at least two more times: a televised debate on July 21 at KWCH-TV, Ch. 12, and July 27 on the Gene Countryman Show on KNSS radio, 1330 AM.