Three of the four Republicans seeking their party's nomination in the 4th Congressional District touted their credentials as tea party candidates during a campaign forum Thursday.
Republican National Committeeman Mike Pompeo, businessman Wink Hartman and state Sen. Jean Schodorf all pledged some degree of allegiance to the movement that is built around demands for lower taxes and smaller government, along with opposition to national health care and the Obama administration.
All attended the tea party protest outside Wichita City Hall on the evening of April 15.
Schodorf, R-Wichita, brought the most tangible evidence — a $35 parking ticket she got while attending.
Schodorf revealed herself as one of at least 45 attendees ticketed for illegally parking at the Rounds & Porter building next to City Hall.
Schodorf drew a few laughs as she jokingly confessed to the largely law-enforcement-oriented audience at the forum, sponsored by the Wichita Crime Commission.
"In full disclosure, I went to the tea party last week and... well, I was kind of in a hurry and there was this empty parking lot and I thought, 'Ooh, good, that's close by,' " Schodorf said.
"... So anyway, I'm going to pay it."
Later the discussion became more serious over audience questions asking the candidates' views on the tea party and restoring civility in government.
"I thoroughly enjoyed it (the April 15 rally), and I believe in the tea party," Hartman said.
"It is very worthwhile and it is something I greatly appreciate because I think it is a great place for the frustrations and the direction this country needs to go."
On civil discourse, Hartman, who owns an oil company, an arena, the Wichita Wild football team and interests in several restaurants, said he had been in many business negotiations and never succeeded in accomplishing anything by name-calling or looking down on those who disagreed with him.
"Like it or not, I've had to grin a few times and kind of eat the dog, if you will," he said. "But you cannot continue being combative, rude, crude and difficult to get whoever on the other side of the table to agree with you and to follow your vision."
Pompeo said he thinks the tea party movement "kept health care in check for a good long time."
He said "the sad news is they didn't get it to the finish line and get us all the way to November," when Republicans hope to recapture majority control of the House of Representatives.
He noted that some of the tea party enthusiasts are outliers on the political spectrum, but said that happens with every group.
"At their core they are patriots who care about the same kind of things that I do — small government and freedom and liberty — and so I applaud their activities and am working hard to gain their trust and support," Pompeo said.
"A way toward civil discourse... is to tell the truth all the time," Pompeo added. "You speak your mind; you say it in a principled way and a civil way and respect all those with which you interact."
Schodorf, the only self-described moderate in the race, was slightly more lukewarm on tea parties.
"I think the tea party is refreshing," Schodorf said. "I don't want it to get violent... and there has been some fringe there."
But, she said, by and large, the movement is a continuation of the American tradition of people coming together to address the issues of their times.
"I believe in people working for a cause, working to help a community, working to make a better government, and the tea party is another example of that," she said.
Schodorf broke from tea party — and Republican Party — orthodoxy on health care, saying she is not sure exactly how she would have voted on the issue if she'd been in Washington.
She said she supports the part of the new law allowing young people to stay on their parents' insurance coverage until age 26, and a provision banning health insurance companies from denying people coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
But she said she's worried because "we don't know what the bottom line is going to be" for businesses and the bill that passed doesn't do enough to address rising medical costs.
"What we need to do is see if there are things that we like in this bill and keep it and try to fix that part that needs fixed," she said.
Pompeo and Hartman both vehemently said they would have voted no and would work to repeal the health care law if elected.
Hartman said the bill is "a job killer."
Pompeo called it "2,700 pages of monstrosity."
The fourth candidate in the primary race, Jim Anderson, missed the forum because of a scheduling mix-up.