Mike Pompeo is hoping that background and experience will give him an edge in the 4th District Republican primary for Congress.
His resume is a mix of military, business and political accomplishments, much like a checklist for a man who would be congressman:
* Graduated first in class at West Point and served five years as an Army officer — check.
* Harvard Law School and 2 1/2 years as a lawyer in Washington — check.
* Started an aerospace business in Kansas — check.
* Serves on the Republican National Committee — check.
* Endorsed by Wichita's biggest aircraft companies' executives, the state Farm Bureau and Kansans for Life, the state's leading anti-abortion group — check, check and check.
Pompeo has raised about $900,000 since he started campaigning in April 2009, the most of any of the Republican candidates.
But he has run into determined opposition from multimillionaire Wink Hartman, who has already spent about $1.2 million — most of it his own money — to vie for the seat being vacated by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard.
Recent polls show the two as front-runners in a too-close-to-call
contest, with the third-place candidate, state Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, moving up.
Politically, Pompeo aligns with the free-market conservative wing of the Republican party, advocating for deep reductions in government spending, lower taxes and reduced regulation on businesses.
No. 1, "We've got to stop spending, you cannot continue to spend money you don't have as a nation, forever," he said.
"When that spending comes down, you can grow the economy, and that means jobs. They're all deeply connected. When the federal government's take approaches the level that it is today, the private sector can't do what it does best: take risks, create prosperity and grow jobs."
Health care, spending
Pompeo said the first thing he wants to do is repeal the recently enacted health care bill.
"It's the most enormous entitlement in the history of civilization."
Not that Pompeo doesn't want to dramatically reform health care. He does.
He said the Flint Hills Public Policy Institute, where he was a trustee, prepared a number of papers on how free-market principles could improve health care delivery.
Part of that would be to encourage competition among suppliers of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals.
Pompeo also wants to do away with traditional health insurance.
Instead of employers paying to insure employees, they could provide a similar amount in extra pay or medical savings accounts — along with "stop-loss" insurance to guard against catastrophic expenses.
If they had to pay themselves, he said, people would reduce medical costs by asking more questions and bypassing expensive but possibly unnecessary tests and procedures.
"Today, the person who is paying the freight doesn't see the cost at the time they make decisions, it's made by the insurance company," he said. "So you get decisions at the point of sale for the doctor-patient relationship that aren't tied to value and economics."
He said patients can make decisions on health care "the same way you know whether the Buick is better than the Pontiac."
To do that, however, patients will need more information, he said.
"We need to make price information available to the consumer — just like we have in every other marketplace," he said.
Another part of Pompeo's plan to cut federal spending is to partially privatize Social Security.
He supports a proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that would keep things the same for workers over 55, but allow younger workers to divert part of their Social Security payments to self-directed investment accounts.
"I often hear people say the Republicans are the 'party of no,' " he said. "I would tell you that the Democrats have been 'no' on a good solution to Social Security."
Born in Santa Ana, Calif., Pompeo lived there until he went to college.
But he had ties to Kansas on his late mother's side.
"She and her nine brothers and sisters grew up in a house at 902 N. Oliver in Wellington," Pompeo said.
His parents met when his mother was working as a purchasing clerk at Boeing Wichita and his father lived in California, where he was "dropped off" after the Korean War.
"They met on the phone," Pompeo said. "She was buying nuts and bolts, and he was selling nuts and bolts."
He invited her to come visit, she did; they got engaged in 48 hours and got married in Wichita a couple of months later.
"It's a great, fun story," Pompeo said.
After West Point, he served as a tank platoon leader, cavalry troop executive officer and squadron maintenance officer in Germany. He left the service as a captain to go to law school.
After graduating, he went to work for the law firm Williams and Connolly in Washington.
There, he worked mainly in tax litigation, but volunteered to represent a group of Arkansans fighting for congressional term limits. Arkansas courts rejected the measure and the U.S. Supreme court declined to hear the case.
Pompeo came to Kansas in 1996.
"I had a buddy in Kansas call and say let's start a business together," he said.
They brought in two other friends and launched what became Thayer Aerospace.
On the campaign trail, Pompeo has had to answer Hartman's charges that as chief executive of Thayer, he created jobs in Mexico that could have gone to Kansas, and that he was forced out after running the company into financial trouble.
Pompeo disputes both allegations.
Thayer did start a factory in Mexicali, Mexico, with about 20 employees.
But Pompeo says he had to start the Mexican plant to meet conditions of a contract that gained Kansas 40 to 50 jobs. Pompeo has not identified the client he says required work be done in Mexico, citing confidentiality provisions in the contract.
He acknowledged that Thayer had some delays in paying its bills to suppliers, particularly during the post-Sept. 11 downturn in aviation. But he said he thinks the suppliers were ultimately paid what they were owed.
He said he left on excellent terms and even helped pick his successor when he sold his interest in Thayer, now known as Nex-Tech Aerospace.
Pompeo is now head of Sentry International, an oilfield services company.