The candidates for the 4th Congressional District seat squared off mostly about jobs in their first debate, with Republican Mike Pompeo highlighting his business record and Democrat Raj Goyle touting his job-creation efforts as a Kansas legislator.
Goyle, a state representative from Wichita, lit into Pompeo for starting a small factory in Mexicali, Mexico, when he was president of Wichita-based Thayer Aerospace in 2003.
"We have fundamental differences about how to approach creating and protecting jobs," Goyle said. "My opponent has said that nothing can be done about sending these jobs overseas. He's engaged in the practice himself. And he's actually said that he fundamentally thinks it's not his job to bring jobs back to Kansas. I couldn't disagree more."
Pompeo, a Republican national committeeman and businessman, has said that he created jobs in Mexico to land a contract that created more jobs in Kansas. He said that Democrat-sponsored federal policies, such as the recently passed health care law and the proposed cap-and-trade system for controlling carbon emissions, are what's destroying jobs.
"Look, it's a direct response, when the federal government grows too big and the rewards go to folks who are part of the federal fisc and we say we're going to take more power to Washington, D.C., then private-sector jobs, great private-sector jobs, here in the 4th District are lost," Pompeo said. "You can't grow jobs when you have uncertainty that rises to the level we have today.
"They spent $1.4 trillion on a stimulus plan and we certainly haven't seen the jobs here in Kansas."
Thursday's debate took place against a backdrop of high local unemployment made worse by the announcement earlier this week that Cessna Aircraft, one of the city's largest employers, will be laying off 700 workers.
Both candidates expressed sympathy for workers facing layoffs and their families.
And both claimed to have created or helped create hundreds of jobs in the aviation industry in their respective roles.
Pompeo claimed credit for jobs at Thayer, a company he helped create, and at Sentry International, the oilfield service firm he now heads. "I welcome Rep. Goyle to the world of job creation," Pompeo said. "Let's keep score, Pompeo 400, Goyle zero. That's how many jobs I've created in Kansas fighting against the very politicians that will tell you one thing and then do something different when they go to Washington."
Goyle pointed to his votes as a legislator for public-private partnerships to preserve and expand jobs in Kansas, including a bill that resulted in Learjet expanding its planned operations in Wichita by 600 workers.
"The difference between myself and my opponent is, he would have said 'no' to that deal because of the rigid ideology of always saying 'no' and saying government must always get the heck out of the way of everything," Goyle said. "If we're going to talk about jobs and our business record, I'll be happy to have that debate for the rest of this evening, because I can tell you this: We may have created some jobs, but I have never created a job in Mexico and I never will."
Unions supporting Goyle had planned a pre-debate rally in the parking lot, but that plan melted in the rain. Inside the auditorium at the Wichita State University Eugene Hughes Metropolitan Complex, Goyle supporters gathered on the left side of the aisle and Pompeo supporters on the right.
About 800 people turned out, exceeding expectations and forcing university security officials to open the balconies to handle the overflow. The crowd was boisterous, with each side cheering its candidate and occasionally booing or moaning while the opponent was speaking.
In addition to jobs, Pompeo and Goyle squared off over campaign finance reform and a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing corporate entities to spend unlimited money on campaign advocacy for candidates.
Pompeo painted it as a free-speech issue.
"I am a huge advocate for people's First Amendment rights, the ability for them to spend their money the way they see fit," Pompeo said. "Today, that's not the case" with most federal and state campaign laws.
"I would be a strong advocate for a lot of reform to our federal election campaign laws, making sure the folks who want to have a voice in the political process, whether they be individuals or corporations, or any folks who think, 'I have resources, I have an important cause I need to go fight,' " he said.
Goyle advocated for a different kind of reform.
He said he thinks moneyed interests wield too much power over politics and he supports the Disclose Act, a bill pending in Congress that would require corporations and other interests to file public reports on their campaign spending.
"Everybody respects the First Amendment and we understand there is a free-speech right to engage in politics," he said. "I absolutely believe there is too much money in politics."
Goyle said requiring that political groups disclose their donors would be one way to counter what he called "one of the most destructive Supreme Court decisions in recent times."