Elections

Pompeo's D.C. office a select spot

If luck of the draw is any indication, Mike Pompeo's congressional career may be off to a good start.

Last month, Pompeo and 93 other freshmen House members gathered to draw a lottery number from a wooden box.

The number would determine the order in which representatives selected offices. The offices are all about the same size, but some are considered prime locations.

Drawing for Pompeo was staffer Keith Dater, who had been successful calling coin flips for debates during the campaign for the 4th District congressional seat. This time, Dater drew the number two.

Pompeo used the lofty choice to select 107 Cannon House Office Building, an office previously occupied by Rep. Michele Bachmann. The conservative Republican from Minnesota decided to move down the hall for her third term.

"It's a great location for us," Pompeo said. "When constituents come visit, we're in a place that's easy to get to on the first floor."

But, he added, "The office, at the end of the day, isn't that big a deal. You're there to do other people's work."

Successful in his first run at elected office, Pompeo is about to head off for Washington as a member of the 112th Congress.

His personal work list is long. During his campaign, he called for getting the nation's fiscal house in order: cutting spending, pursuing policies that would encourage economic growth, dumping President Obama's new health care reform act, dealing with Social Security's woes and eliminating earmarks.

"I'm deeply aware of the magnitude of the task," said Pompeo, who turns 47 on Thursday — six days before he's sworn in as a congressman.

The graduate of West Point and Harvard Law School approaches the task much as he did while serving five years in the Army, including leading troops patrolling the Iron Curtain shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

"Double down on the effort," Pompeo said. "In my life, each time I've faced a situation that was a big task, it's always been, take a deep breath, step back, get organized."

New staff, D.C. digs

Putting a staff together was the first task. Mark Chenoweth, who previously worked for Koch Industries and in the Department of Justice in the George W. Bush administration, is Pompeo's chief of staff. Augusta native Chuck Knapp, who was senior adviser to Pompeo's predecessor, Todd Tiahrt, will head the district office in Wichita.

Pompeo also had to find time to prepare to live part-time halfway across the country.

His wife, Susan, will continue to live in Wichita; their son, Nick, is a Kansas State University sophomore studying business economics.

Last week, he and Susan were wrapping up a search in the Washington area for what he called a "very small" apartment for him. Susan has taken the lead on the search.

"She has slightly different priorities for an apartment than I do," Pompeo said. "I'm willing to have something more spartan. She thinks it should be a little bit nicer."

This week, they'll load up a U-Haul and drive back to Washington so he can get settled in. Plans call for him to return to Wichita most weekends.

Joining many juniors

Pompeo said he wants his constituents to hold him accountable to do what he said he would do during the campaign.

"As a nation, we've moved to a place that presents enormous risk to the republic," he said. "I think voters said, 'We're going another way.'

"And I'm equally confident that if the Republican majority in the House behaves like the (Democratic) leadership did, that on Nov. 2, 2012, we'll all be gone, too. And properly so."

This is the first time since 1999 that all members of Kansas' congressional delegation are Republican. But this is also a junior group.

Like Pompeo, Kevin Yoder of the 3rd District and Tim Huelskamp of the 1st will be freshman representatives. Lynn Jenkins of the 2nd is going into her second term. Jerry Moran will be in his first year as a senator, although he's wrapping up his 14th year in the House.

On the other hand, they have plenty of company. There will be 94 new representatives — 85 Republicans, nine Democrats. That's about six times the normal turnover rate.

"The good news is there is a lot of change," Pompeo said. "So while we're pretty junior, there was a lot of seniority that left with the election. We think we're in pretty good shape."

He has landed a spot on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which handles public health as well as energy and interstate commerce matters.

Pompeo's priorities

Cutting spending will be Pompeo's top priority. He knows that means taking on both sides of the aisle.

"Look, I've talked a lot about President Obama," he said. "There are so many of his policies that I disagree with sharply. But this spending issue is something that has taken place under Republicans and Democrats for a long time. This is not strictly a partisan issue."

His targets include eliminating earmarks. During a GOP caucus in mid-November, he voted against including earmarks in federal spending.

He acknowledged some earmarks have been beneficial but said the abuse of the process is out of control.

"The less government picks winners and losers, the smaller government we have, the more freedom we have and the more likely it is that entrepreneurs and risk takers will create jobs," he said. "They're deeply connected concepts."

Pompeo said he'll take an approach that puts in place what he called pro-growth tax and regulatory policies while at the same time reducing federal spending.

"Hard decisions, make no mistake about it," he said. "If it were easy to cut spending, we wouldn't be where we are today."

Pompeo said he will join others in attacking the health reform act that was pushed through Congress in July.

The best way to do that is to reopen the process and do it right by bringing in new legislation on the House floor and having a "robust debate about it," he said.

As for Social Security, Pompeo said, "What's obvious is that doing nothing is not an option. There is not a sustainable path to keeping Social Security if we do nothing."

He said he supports a plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

The plan would reduce benefits by gradually raising the retirement age, gradually trimming benefits for the top 70 percent of earners and guaranteeing a higher minimum benefit to low-income retirees.

Workers under 55 would also have the option of investing some or all of their Social Security payments in a controlled set of investment options.

"I want to make sure Social Security is around not only for my father, who is 83, but for my son, who is 20," Pompeo said. "We've got to do something."

Staying focused

He learned something about the mindset of other freshman representatives while going through an orientation with them in Washington last month.

"I was impressed with the seriousness of the group," he said. "Most of them campaigned on the same set of issues as I did. They were hearing the same things from the American people, 'Hey, you've got to take this on.' "

That included a couple of Democrats that he spoke with at length.

But he said it all comes down to staying on task. That's how he approached his role as a tank platoon leader.

"We needed to train every day so if we had to execute our mission, we were ready," Pompeo said, "and we wouldn't look back and say, 'Gosh, I wish we had trained that day instead of doing something different.'

"I think about this task the same way. We have to spend every moment just focused on the things we said we would do and working closely with the other 434 members of the House to convince them those are the things" that are right for the country.

At 9 a.m. on Jan. 3, the former fifth-grade Sunday school teacher will get the keys to his new office at 107 Cannon, and he can get to work.

Luck will have nothing to do with the results.

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