Wichita’s longtime congressman. A former conservative radio host. An adviser to Donald Trump’s transition effort. A local lawyer.
The Agri-Business Council of Wichita gathered a diverse cast of Republicans hoping to replace Rep. Mike Pompeo, who is nominated to lead the CIA in the incoming administration, for a candidate forum on Friday.
There were familiar faces like Todd Tiahrt, who represented Wichita in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2011. There were also less-known candidates like George Bruce, a Wichita lawyer making his first run for public office.
The forum did not include every Republican who has shown an interest in filling Pompeo’s seat, such as Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner.
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Tiahrt said significant accomplishments for President-elect Donald Trump and the new Congress may be difficult in the face of potential opposition. He said experience was key during that brief “window of opportunity.”
“If we don’t have someone who has strong leadership capabilities in the building … the first day, I’m concerned we won’t get the job done,” Tiahrt said.
Joseph Ashby was a conservative radio host whose last day on the air was the day after the November election. He said he enjoyed being “that voice in the wilderness in … Kansas among media outlets.”
“Comfort is good … but preserving what is special about this country for a period of time is also good,” Ashby said.
Alan Cobb touted “a lifetime of advocacy for conservative principles.” Cobb, a former executive with Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity, is on the presidential transition team.
“I’m in a unique position and time to have the ear of the president and vice president,” Cobb said. “I’ll have the opportunity to, at least, put the interests of the 4th District in the ear of those making decisions.”
Bruce is a lawyer who has never run for office. In announcing his run Tuesday, he touted his 35-year work record.
“I’ve been busy in the trenches working with people day in and day out,” he said.
Candidates were asked about the farm bill, agricultural commodities, trade and exports.
Tiahrt said he would focus on access to crop insurance for farmers. He said this year will feature the first hearings for a farm bill in 2018.
“I’m bringing my ideas back to you again,” Tiahrt said. “It’s very important to me that we create an environment where we can grow our local economy.”
Ashby said one of his main goals was to “un-shackle” American farmers from federal environmental regulations.
“The Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies have made it harder, not easier, to farm,” Ashby said. “We have an opportunity to let farmers do what they need to.”
Cobb said the United States should focus on enforcing current trade agreements and forging trade agreements with individual countries instead of multilateral agreements, which feature multiple countries.
“No one has ever beaten the U.S. ag producers in trade, and they never will,” Cobb said.
Bruce said congressional Republicans need to be careful with any perceived mandate and offer businesses “predictability in regulations and laws.”
“Congress and the President need to work in a way where they don’t run roughshod and try to push things really without some cooperation or bipartisan approach,” he said. “We don’t need to be subject to constant swings of pendulums that’s based mostly on ideology.”
The state Republican Party will select its candidate through 126 delegates from the 4th Congressional District, which includes Wichita and most of south-central Kansas.