The Kansas First Congressional District stretches from the Oklahoma border to Nebraska, from the Colorado state line to Topeka. Its land mass is slightly bigger than the entire state of Illinois landmass: 57,373 square miles for the First; 55,584 for Illinois. The meatpacking industry in Garden City and Dodge City has hired thousands of immigrant workers who have changed the demographics in the region. Some have become citizens and started building the Democratic Party among Latino workers specifically. Farming remains the heart, if not the soul, of western Kansas.
The district produced Dwight Eisenhower, who grew up in Abilene, became Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, and while President sent the 101st Airborne into Little Rock in 1957 to quell racist violence and integrate the schools. Bob Dole was born in Russell, was elected to congress from the First District, became a United State Senator and fathered the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Most recently, the First District was represented by Tim Huelskamp.
Huelskamp was elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010. He made a name for himself as a Tea Partier in Congress, and in 2012 was removed from his seat on the House Agriculture Committee by Republican Speaker John Boehner for his trouble. Huelskamp and his Freedom Caucus helped depose Boehner in return, but Huelskamp never got his seat back on the Ag Committee. That left western Kansas, where there are more cattle than people, unrepresented.
So on August 2, in the 2016 Republican primary, Roger Marshall beat Tim Huelskamp by a 14 point margin, knocking the Tea Party favorite out of office. No one should be confused, Marshall is not a liberal, and he may not even be “mainstream.” He says he is “pro-life,” supports Second Amendment rights, and has opposed the “Obamacare.” But he is not a nutcase who will support the Tea Party movement against the interests of his constituents.
Huelskamp had plenty of money backing him up, including the Koch brothers network in Kansas and the Club for Growth. Marshall had the Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas Farm Bureau. (Kansas Farmers Union does not endorse candidates.) Money did not decide this race, the fed up farmers and residents of the First District did.
There was a compounding factor, besides the absence of Huelskamp from the Ag Committee. For the first time in many years, conservative Republicans in Kansas took a beating at the primary polls because of their support for Governor Brownback’s budget. Kansas is facing a $74.5 million deficit, has had its credit rating downgraded, and is facing budgets cuts across the board—including in public education, state pensions, Medicare reimbursements and the highway fund. All because Brownback decided to cut taxes and hope the cut would increase jobs and budgets in the state. Cutting taxes caused only one thing to grow, and that was the state budget deficit. Voters do not like Brownback, and they would likely vote him out of office if he was up for election. They voted senators and house members aligned with his cause out in the primary.
They did not vote all of the Brownback conservatives out, and it will be a tough fight for all sides in the next Kansas legislative session. But there was enough anti-Brownback steam in the election to help dump Huelskamp in the First District.
Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, of course, blamed Huelskamp loss on the “Washington special interest crowd.” The Freedom Caucus in Congress is blaming Republican leaders for the loss of a Tea Party leader. Neither organization can face the simple fact that Huelskamp betrayed his own constituents, and when they got the chance, they kicked him out.