GREAT BEND, Kan. - State Senator Tim Huelskamp's new TV ad claims he's a political outsider. In the ad, he brags about being booted off the "Ways and Means" committee by fellow Republicans. At the time in 2003, Huelskamp told John Milburn of the AP that he was booted because "I'm not a team player."
Giving Huelskamp the benefit of the doubt, he may have been simply repeating what his Republican superiors told him as they showed him the door, not admitting that he is not a team player. But there seems to be almost universal consensus in the legislature that Huelskamp is hard to get along with.
Huelskamp simply "doesn't play well with others," especially those in the Republican party. When Senate GOP leaders booted Huelskamp from the powerful "Ways and Means" Committee, they had a laundry list of complaints.
They described him as engaging in "unproductive behavior," and nine Republicans on the "Organization, Calendar and Rules Committee" disciplined him. Senate President Dave Kerr stated: "Sen. Huelskamp has been unwilling to apply constructive criticism and positive solutions to the myriad of budget problems of the state. We have no time to deal with anyone who is unwilling to be part of the solution."
Another of Huelskamp's Republican superiors, Senator Morris stated: "Senator Huelskamp appears to be only interested in being an obstructionist and not contributing to the legislative process in a positive way...It's fine to disagree. It's the old cliche, 'disagree agreeably.'" According to Senator Morris, Huelskamp blindsided fellow party members with constant amendments to legislation.
The year before, when Huelskamp called a sophomoric press conference to propose a "Tax Me More" fund to collect voluntary contributions for state government, Republican Gov. Bill Graves said: "Why am I not surprised that it's Huelskamp?"
The "Ways and Means" Committee (known as the Appropriations Committee on the House side) is the most powerful committee in the legislature. They decide how to spend state money.
At the time, Huelskamp said his dismissal was for two reasons: 1) he was not a team player; and 2) he did not support Dave Kerr's failed gubernatorial bid in 2002. (Huelskamp supported Tim Schallenberger.)
On his TV ads in his current First District congressional campaign, Huelskamp has a new explanation for why he got the boot. His ads brag: "He went against his party leaders and was kicked off his committee for bucking the establishment and fighting wasteful spending."
While there is no doubt Huelskamp hates government spending of all kinds, the reason he got fired was because he was brash and abrasive. He thought he was smarter than veteran Senators Kerr, Senator Morris, and lots of other veteran Republicans who knew the ropes. But the issue wasn't his ideology, it was his manners.
In doing my "donut shop" research with Great Bend voters, most who have seen Huelskamp's ad say the same thing: "Why would you brag about being kicked off a committee by your own political party?"
Do you want to send someone to Congress who is going to constantly argue with his Republican superiors? If the Republicans regain control of the U.S. Congress this fall, Rep. Boehner will be the Speaker of the House. And he won't put up with the antics of Huelskamp.
Huelskamp is the anti-Moran. As my Uncle Bob once told me about a particular legislator: "He's like a catfish. When his mouth is open, he can't hear a thing." Jerry Moran succeeded by listening and cooperating, not picking fights with teammates.
Huelskamp is all wrong for the Big First. He's backed by "Club for Growth," which basically wants to defund government. But the Big First gets more money from the federal government than we pay in. The Big First needs the federal government to help us with farm subsidies, Medicare reimbursements for rural hospitals, etc.
Again, the issue is not ideology, the issue is "people skills," or "manners." Ronald Reagan put a likable smiling face on conservatism. Huelskamp offers a scowl.
Sources: "Conservative Removed From Committee," by John Milburn, AP, "The Hays Daily News," January 16, 2003.
"Republican Feud Flares Up Again," by Carol Crupper, Salina Journal, January 30, 2003.