Politics & Government

Here’s the latest on who’s running for Pompeo’s seat in Congress

Rep. Mike Pompeo, left, is sworn in Monday night as director of the CIA by Vice President Mike Pence with Pompeo’s wife, Susan, in Washington, D.C. (Jan. 23, 2017)
Rep. Mike Pompeo, left, is sworn in Monday night as director of the CIA by Vice President Mike Pence with Pompeo’s wife, Susan, in Washington, D.C. (Jan. 23, 2017) Bloomberg

Wichita’s seat in Congress is now an empty one. And there’s a line of people who want to fill it.

Mike Pompeo was confirmed Monday by the U.S. Senate to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, leaving a vacancy for the 4th Congressional District.

Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was sworn in as CIA director on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, just an hour after the Senate confirmed him. Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath of office. (C-SPAN)

Gov. Sam Brownback set April 11 as the special election date. That’s the first Tuesday available to hold the election under the law. Brownback said his goal was to fill the seat “as quickly as possible so the people of the 4th District don’t lack a representative.”

The two major parties have 15 to 25 days to nominate someone to run in the special election. The Libertarian Party can also field a candidate, and an independent candidate can get on the ballot if he or she collects 3,000 or more signatures.

Brian Caskey, the state’s elections director, said the U.S. Constitution allows Kansas residents to run for the seat if they’re at least 25 years old. They don’t necessarily have to live in the 4th Congressional District, which covers south-central Kansas, including Wichita.

The Republicans and Democrats will soon hold conventions to pick their nominees. The Republican nominee will be chosen by 126 delegates from across the district.

Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said 95 percent of the delegates were already chosen before Pompeo was tapped by now-President Donald Trump. County parties choose delegates between the primary and two weeks after the general election, he said.

“Every county gets their chair and vice chair as automatic delegates. And then if the county had above a certain level of votes for the primary, … they get extra, so Sedgwick County gets 66 delegates. Most of the rural ones just have two,” Barker said. “And so when the counties meet to elect their county officers, they also elect extra delegates.”

Kansas Democrats are still determining their delegates.

Here’s a breakdown of who’s running for the seat.

The Republican candidates include a former congressman, the state treasurer and an adviser for President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Republicans

State Treasurer Ron Estes said he would have a campaign announcement Wednesday morning.

“I’ve been really heartened as I’ve talked to folks about the possibility of me as a candidate,” he said Tuesday. “We really want to change Washington from the grassroots up to D.C.”

Estes is in his second term as state treasurer. He was first elected Sedgwick County treasurer in 2004 and re-elected in 2008 before winning the state office in 2010.

Estes said he would continue to serve in his official capacity while seeking the seat.

Alan Cobb, a Kansas native who served as a campaign adviser to Trump, has begun working toward securing the nomination. He was visiting with delegates in Harper County on Tuesday morning.

Prior to advising Trump, Cobb worked for Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, political advocacy organizations with ties to the Koch family. Cobb also worked on Pompeo’s 2014 campaign and the successful campaign against a Wichita sales tax increase the same year.

“I think given my life experience and the uniqueness of being a senior adviser on the Trump campaign, and knowing a lot of the Trump officials and knowing my work with the Koch network, it’s just kind of a unique confluence of events and I think I’d be very, very effective for the 4th District,” Cobb said.

Former Congressman Todd Tiahrt is touting his experience and seniority.

He held the seat from 1995 to 2011. He said that if he returns to Congress, he will keep his 16 years of seniority and stand a chance of getting a chairmanship.

“It’s important that we have somebody with a firm voice who has the relationships in Congress and has the seniority to be a strong voice for the 4th District of Kansas,” Tiahrt said. “Otherwise, it’ll be a backbencher and the ideas that we hold will just be in the noise instead of in the forefront.”

Tiahrt tried unsuccessfully to recapture his seat in 2014, losing to Pompeo by double digits after a bitter primary. He also served as the state’s Republican National Committeeman for four years.

Tiahrt is a registered lobbyist with the U.S. House and Senate for the National Association for the Employment of Persons Who Are Blind. Tiahrt said that he would resign this position if he won the seat, but that there is no requirement that he give up his lobbying job while running for the House.

Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner has contacted all of the delegates to let them know he’s running.

“After looking at the landscape of all the people, I believe I would be the best person for the district,” Meitzner said Tuesday.

Meitzner said he thought about running before Pompeo announced his first run in 2010 for the 4th Congressional District.

“This is not something that was just done in a vacuum just recently,” he said.

Joseph Ashby, a former conservative radio host, was also visiting delegates in Kiowa County and elsewhere on Tuesday. He pointed to his conservative activism in media.

“I feel I have the advantage of being very passionately on the record,” he said.

He said he wanted to serve in Congress to reduce debt and fight regulations while the Republicans have an advantage in Congress and the White House.

“In our excitement about winning, I don’t want to forget why we won,” he said.

Wichita lawyer George Bruce announced in a news conference that he was running as well. In his announcement speech, he criticized the federal government’s “cumbersome rules, overly complex regulations and burdensome taxes.”

“Those of us in the private sector need to step up and use the tools and experiences that have built this great country to bring our government back under control and limit its insatiable appetite for power and dominance over our lives,” Bruce said.

Current Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said Wednesday that she would not seek the seat.

Democrats

Democrats seeking the seat include an a former state treasurer, an Andover police officer and a Wichita native who runs a consulting firm that helps U.S. companies export their products.

Former state Treasurer Dennis McKinney said he will give a formal announcement Wednesday afternoon.

McKinney served as state treasurer from 2008 to 2010 after serving 16 years in the Kansas House, including a six-year stint as minority leader. McKinney’s Kansas House district included parts of Barber, Comanche, Kingman, Kiowa and Harper counties.

He said the primary purpose of his public service and time in government was “to help people find opportunities.”

Charlie Walker, who describes himself as a progressive Democrat, worked on Democrat Dan Giroux’s unsuccessful general election campaign for the seat. Walker, a 31-year-old police officer in Andover, decided to pursue the seat on his own after Giroux declined another run.

“I believe that a Democrat can win this seat if we have a good race and we all turn out and we run a good campaign,” Walker said.

Walker previously worked for the University of Kansas Medical Center as part of a program that aims to increase health care access to underserved urban and rural populations.

Robert Tillman, a three-time candidate for the seat, is running again.

“I’m eager to put my iron in the fire,” he said. “I think I have an excellent chance.”

Tillman, a retired court services officer from Wichita, ran in 2010, 2012 and 2016. Last year, he won 14 of the district’s 17 counties in the Democratic primary. But he was edged out by Giroux, who had a much stronger showing in Sedgwick County.

Tillman is a member of the Democrats’ congressional district committee that will vote on the nomination and said he has been contacting fellow members seeking their support.

Jim Thompson, a civil rights lawyer from Wichita, said he’s motivated to run by declines in the Kansas economy that he says have been brought on by the policies of Gov. Sam Brownback. He said people should be able to “get a decent job with a decent wage,” and “right now, that’s not happening … our economy’s going down the tubes.”

Another priority is “taking care of our military and veterans,” he said. Thompson served in the Army’s Presidential Honor Guard from 1990 to 1994.

“I did a lot of ceremonies at the White House and around D.C.,” he said. “And I buried a lot of veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.”

Laura Lombard, a Wichita native who runs Washington, D.C.-based MENA Consultants, said earlier this month that she would run.

“After this last election, I felt like it was time to get into politics and try to make a difference in the direction we’re heading,” Lombard said at the time.

She wants to focus on job creation and education if elected.

Current House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said Tuesday that he had no plans to run.

Libertarian

Gordon Bakken, a retired engineer, ran for the seat on the Libertarian ticket in November.

“I think I’ve got a better chance this time,” he said. “Pompeo’s not running.”

He said the two biggest issues are war in the Middle East and health care.

“National health care is quite clearly something that the federal government’s not supposed to do by the Constitution,” he said. And war “is doing a lot of damage to us and to the people of the Middle East.

“We charged down both those roads without giving it enough thought.”

John Costner, a farmer and rancher from the town of Murdock in Kingman County, said he’s running “because the best the Republicans can come up with is Ron Estes, and I think I can beat him.”

He said he thinks his advantage over Estes is “I’ve got more charisma.”

“I may be charismatic and popular, but I’m not a demagogue,” he said. “I love all the public.”

Costner said he’s a supporter of President Trump and, if elected to Congress, would hope to follow Pompeo into a job with the Trump administration.

“I’ve got my sights set on Washington,” he said. “That’s where the movers and shakers are.”

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