How true are claims in Pompeo, Hartman ads?

07/11/2010 12:00 AM

07/11/2010 1:03 AM

To listen to the Mike Pompeo campaign, you might think that Wink Hartman should be running for Congress on Florida's Gold Coast.

And listening to the Hartman campaign, you might get the idea Pompeo should be running for mayor of Mexicali.

As the race for the Republican nomination in Kansas' 4th District nears its Aug. 3 finale, Pompeo and Hartman, have increasingly questioned each other's credentials as Kansans.

Hartman and Pompeo are pounding each other in television ads and virtually ignoring the other three candidates — small-business owner Jim Anderson, engineer/rancher Paij Rutschman and state Sen. Jean Schodorf.

Pompeo has sought to portray Hartman as an opportunist who renounced the state of his birth to take advantage of a Florida property tax break — and then lied to voters when he claimed to be a lifelong Kansan.

Hartman, meanwhile, paints Pompeo as a Washington carpetbagger who helped start Thayer Aerospace 12 years ago and then shipped Kansas aircraft jobs to Mexico.

Hartman bristles at the charge that he abandoned Kansas. He calls his $4 million Florida seaside house a "vacation home" and says Pompeo has no right to question where he and his wife choose to go on vacation.

Pompeo gets about as irritated

over Hartman's claim that he shipped local work to Mexico. Pompeo said his company started a small plant in Mexicali in reaction to a client's contractual demands — a move that created about 20 jobs south of the border and 40 to 50 in Wichita.

Hartman's residency

Hartman has had ties to Florida that go beyond casual vacation trips and on at least three occasions filed papers declaring residence there.

But he also maintained some aspects of his residency in Kansas.

He provided The Eagle with documents indicating he did not take advantage of Florida's tax code — the state has no income tax — to avoid paying Kansas state taxes.

Hartman showed The Eagle his K-40 Kansas state tax forms from 1991 through 2009. He covered up the amounts of his income and taxes, which are not public record, but the forms all indicated he filed as a Kansas resident.

Officials of the Kansas Department of Revenue said they could not verify any information about Hartman's tax filings because of confidentiality provisions in the law.

Records obtained from the Florida Secretary of State's Office show he registered to vote there in June 2002, and voted in 2006 and 2008.

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher told The Eagle and the Palm Beach Post last month that Hartman was still on the rolls as an active Florida voter.

That information turned out to be incorrect. Hartman is listed as "inactive" on Florida voting rolls, according to both the Secretary of State's office and a Certification of Registration from Bucher's office dated April 12.

Hartman reregistered to vote in Kansas on July 23, 2009, six weeks before declaring his candidacy for Congress.

Hartman also has held a Florida driver's license, as shown by a 1998 DUI citation in Wichita. The period he held that license could not be verified because of a federal law barring public access to driving records.

Property records from the Palm Beach County Appraiser's office show that from 2006 to 2009, he received a "homestead exemption" on his Florida property, an oceanfront home in Highland Beach which he bought for $4 million in May 2005.

Under Florida law, the exemption allows permanent residents not to pay property tax on the first $50,000 of their home's appraised value, which in Hartman's case now stands at $3.8 million.

Applicants are required to fill out a "declaration of domicile" and provide a Florida driver's license and/or voter registration as proof of residency.

After the Palm Beach Post's article, officials in the county appraiser's office sent Hartman a letter dated June 17 asking him to file a Homestead Exemption Withdrawal Form if he had changed his residency.

Hartman said he was surprised by that because he had not applied for the exemption for this year.

Palm Beach County exemption director Pat Poston said Florida law does require annual renewal of the exemption. Palm Beach County accomplishes that by sending a card to the homeowner.

Hartman's card was returned unused, marked by the Post Office as "temporarily away," so his exemption would have been continued if no further action had been taken, Poston said.

Palm Beach County tax records show that Hartman paid $73,038, $65,459 and $69,814 in property taxes in 2009, 2008 and 2007. The value of the exemption was "about $1,000, no more than that," Poston said.

In Kansas, Hartman owns a house on four acres of farm property near Rose Hill, valued at $591,000. Sedgwick County appraisal records indicate he paid about $7,850 in property tax each of the last three years.

While it is not possible to say for sure how Hartman split time between Florida and Kansas, he has remained an active member of Wichita's business community and social scene, regularly appearing in Eagle stories about business, social and political events.

He was active in the movement to save the recently reopened Wichita Boathouse and donated $13,000 to the unsuccessful opposition to a USD 259 school bond in 2008.

In 1990, he bought out his father's interest in the family oil business, Hartman Oil, making him the sole owner of the company.

By 2002, he had made acquisitions that tripled its production and he also has expanded the business to include oilfield services and trucking.

In the last five years, Hartman has been a partner in developing the Chester's Chophouse and Jimmy's Egg restaurants in Wichita, started the Wichita Wild indoor football team and built the $19 million Hartman Arena near Park City.

Hartman said he has always considered Kansas his home and his working life proves it.

"I never left Kansas," he said. "Look at all the businesses I created here when I was supposedly somewhere else."

Pompeo and Mexicali

Not much documentation is available to confirm or refute Hartman's assertions about Pompeo and the Mexicali jobs.

Thayer Aerospace, which was bought by a private equity firm in 2006 and renamed Nex-Tech Aerospace, was and remains a privately held company. Details of its business operations do not have to be revealed publicly.

What is known is that while Pompeo was chief executive of the company, it established a small manufacturing facility in Mexicali.

According to a 2007 Baja California aerospace business directory, the Thayer plant in Mexicali employed 20 workers, manufacturing metal holders and clamps and repairing aircraft parts.

Part of the evidence the Hartman campaign cites to back up its allegation that Kansas work was sent to Mexico is a help-wanted listing from a trade publication.

The listing said the company had "state of the art equipment and sophisticated systems for manufacturing metal components used in structural airframes."

It also said "In Feb. 2007, they expect to start building machinery for Boeing aircraft. They also plan to build another facility in Mexicali."

Campaign officials for Hartman were unable to provide the original source of the listing. Spokesman Scott Paradise said the person who discovered it is no longer associated with the campaign and could not be reached.

Pompeo campaign officials acknowledge that some manufacturing equipment was moved from Wichita to Mexicali.

A campaign spokesman said only three pieces of equipment were moved. Two of those had been in storage and were not in use, while the third was an older machine that was replaced with new apparatus moved to Wichita from Thayer's plant in St. Louis.

Hartman's original ad on the issue of Mexico jobs featured ominous piano music and an unseen male announcer asserting that Pompeo "took Kansas jobs to Mexico. That's right, took Kansas jobs to Mexico."

Pompeo has disputed Hartman's ads in a flash page statement on his website.

"When Thayer Aerospace was awarded a contract that created dozens of new jobs in Wichita, the customer required that up to two dozen contract employees be hired in Mexico," the statement said. "No jobs were 'shipped' to Mexico."

Pompeo amplified on that in an interview this week with The Eagle's editorial board.

"I had an opportunity to win some work that would grow jobs here in Kansas and I took it," he said. "Alongside that, we were asked to create under the contract a facility down in Mexicali, Mexico, and we did. I can't recall if we had eight or 10 or nine or 12 folks that ended up going down to Mexico...

"We hired 12 folks that lived down there in the Mexicali area and we grew 40 or 50 jobs here in Kansas to do that. I'm proud of it. I'd do it again."

Pompeo campaign manager Rodger Woods said Saturday that the client who wanted the jobs in Mexicali must remain confidential under terms of the contract.

After Hartman's ad was questioned by a local television station, the campaign dialed back the rhetoric a bit, changing the assertion to "Pompeo created Kansas's jobs in Mexico."

That same ad quoted Pompeo as saying —"We don't have sufficient expertise here in Wichita" — and linked that to the decision to create the Mexicali plant.

Pompeo did say those words, but in an unrelated setting years before Thayer's Mexicali plant was on the drawing board.

The quote comes from a 2001 interview with Pompeo for a report called "Clusters of Innovation Initiative." The report, by Harvard professor Michael E. Porter, analyzed potential growth areas in the Wichita economy.

One suggestion was that Wichita aircraft industry should add to its traditional strengths in metalwork and machining "with an emphasis on firms that supply more complex systems and materials that require highly skilled workers who are paid high salaries."

The full paragraph containing Pompeo's quote read: "A problem with this complex supplier recruitment strategy, said Thayer's Pompeo, is that there is a limited labor force that specializes in areas related to some of the complex suppliers. 'We don't have sufficient expertise here in Wichita,' said Pompeo."

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