Huelskamp rival calls backing iffy

8/19/2010

By MARY CLARKIN

By MARY CLARKIN

Special to The Telegram

During the GOP primary for the 1st U.S. House District, state Sen. Tim Huelskamp, a Fowler Republican and farmer, won the endorsement of Club for Growth's Political Action Committee, which is critical of federal farm subsidies.

On Wednesday, Huelskamp, who won the GOP primary earlier this month, gained the backing of Kansas Farm Bureau's Voters Organized to Elect Farm Bureau Friends.

Huelskamp and Farm Bureau don't think the two endorsements are at odds with each other, but Democratic challenger Alan Jilka, of Salina, took the senator and Kansas Farm Bureau to task on Wednesday.

Club for Growth PAC's spending during the primary included more than $110,000 in advertising aimed against state Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, who was a front-runner in early polling during the congressional primary race.

Jilka called on the Huelskamp campaign to repay Club for Growth for the money spent.

Huelskamp's campaign manager, David Ray, said Wednesday it had no control over the independent expenditures by Club for Growth's PAC. Ray also noted that advertising critical of Barnett's positions could have benefited other primary candidates besides Huelskamp.

In the final days of the primary race, the Barnett campaign sent a mailer declaring: "Tim Huelskamp's Special Interest backers are trying to abolish farm payments."

The Huelskamp campaign said an endorsement does not mean the candidate agrees with the group completely on every issue.

"Our endorsements speak for themselves. Tim Huelskamp is a strong fiscal conservative and an advocate for farmers and ranchers," said Ray in a statement.

"With this endorsement, the Farm Bureau has abandoned Kansas farmers," Jilka also said.

Mike Matson, director of communications for the Kansas Farm Bureau, said its political advocacy process is "grassroots driven," with recommendations sought from members in all 105 counties. They consider a candidate's voting record, if he's been in office, and other knowledge about or information on the candidate, according to Matson.

In Washington, work on the Farm Bill of 2012 has begun, and Matson said "there's no doubt that the political will to support federal farm policy, as it's traditionally been written, is changing."

"We have very high expectations of Tim Huelskamp to be a leader in Washington on that discussion," Matson said. "He clearly has a rural interest and farm and ranch interests uppermost on his mind, and we have high expectations of him, not only as a candidate, but as a congressman, and we're eager to work with him," Matson said.

Prior to the Aug. 3 primary, the Kansas Farm Bureau's political arm endorsed Republican candidates in three of the four Congressional District races: Incumbent U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins in the 2nd District; State Rep. Kevin Yoder in the 3rd District; and businessman Mike Pompeo in the 4th District. Pompeo, too, is endorsed by the Club for Growth PAC.

Kansas Farm Bureau, notably, did not endorse any candidate in the 1st District during the primary season.

"There were a lot of good candidates in that primary," Matson said, and there was simply no consensus among Kansas Farm Bureau members in the 1st District. "They made the decision. Let's just wait until after the primary," Matson said.

During the primary race, the Barnett campaign, too, was rankled by Huelskamp's endorsement by the Club for Growth PAC, which led some Club for Growth supporters across the country to donate to Huelskamp. Club for Growth's stated tax philosophy is "to raise the amount of money needed to fund legitimate functions of government while doing the least amount of damage to the economy and respecting the principle of treating taxpayers equally." It does not think government should subsidize any industry, including agriculture.

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