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Little difference between Reps. Jenkins and Huelskamp

By Bill Felber

Whatever differences exist between the representatives of the two Congressional districts Manhattan might be a part of next year, they are probably more perceptual than issue-related.

Second District Rep. Lynn Jenkins, the area’s current congresswoman, and First District Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who may pick up Riley and Pottawatomie counties when district boundaries are redrawn, are both generally considered among the more conservative members of Congress. In 2011, Huelskamp’s first year in Congress, they voted alike far more often than they differed, and those interest groups that have released 2011 ratings for members of Congress see little substantive difference between the two.

In arguing their case for keeping Manhattan in the Second District, local officials have taken no issue with Huelskamp’s overall philosophy. Rather, they have couched their concern in the context of the area’s cultural and issue-based connections with eastern Kansas. Those include the military connection to Fort Leavenworth, the education connection with Lawrence and Jenkins’ presumed greater familiarity with the National Agro and Bio-defense Facility.

The whole question may be moot if, as Gov. Sam Brownback told the Associated Press Friday night, a deal really has been struck to reverse the Kansas Senate’s action last week and keep Manhattan in the Second District. The Kansas House may take up the redistricting issue this week.

The assertion that Manhattan’s interests are cultural and not driven by a preference for one representative over another are underscored by the voting records of Huelskamp and Jenkins.  They cast 1,171 roll call votes last year, and agreed 93 percent of the time. On the relatively rare occasions when they disagreed, Huelskamp suspects his own greater sense of urgency to solve the nation’s debt situation may be at the root.

“The sooner we face that, the easier it is to solve it,” he says, expressing the view that “the (deficit) crisis is more urgent that many in Washington seem to believe.”

Huelskamp sees both the First District and himself in the comfort zone of Riley and Pottawatomie counties. He characterizes western Kansas as K-State country, with its agricultural focus forging a particularly close tie to KSU.

Lobbying organizations that have published their 2011 session ratings see only fine distinctions between the two representatives, and several see none at all.

The National Abortion Rights Action League, for example, gives both a rating of 0 percent, while the National Right to Life rates both 100 percent. The American Civil Liberties Union gives Huelskamp a 0 percent rating and scores Jenkins at 14. The AFL-CIO gives both a rating of 0 on labor issues. The Gun Owners of America, which rates members of Congress on a letter grade system gives both Jenkins and Huelskamp an A.

A liberal-oriented website called That’s My Congress found that Jenkins voted for bills backed by most liberals just three percent of the time, while supporting measures favored by most conservatives 73 percent of the time. Huelskamp’s scores were 14 and 70.

The Open Congress website, which permits a comparison of the voting records of any two members of Congress, identified 70 “hot button” issues on which Jenkins and Huelskamp had both voted during 2011. They agreed with one another on 62 of those 70 votes. There was one common thread to the eight differences: In every case, Jenkins voted “aye” and Huelskamp voted “nay.” These were the eight bills or resolutions.

1. The debt ceiling and deficit bill, negotiated between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner. Approved 269-161 by the House in August, it increased the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion in exchange for $900 billion in spending cuts and the creation of a special committee to propose another $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions. The Kansas delegation split down the middle, with Sen. Jerry Moran and Rep. Kevin Yoder joining Huelskamp in opposition, while Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Mike Pompeo joined Jenkins in support.

Huelskamp believes that many who voted for the compromise debt measure now regret doing so, citing the automatic defense cuts included in the bill.

2. The FAA reauthorization and reform act of 2011, authorizing appropriations for the Federal Aviation Administration for fiscal years 2011 through 2014. The House passed it in April by a 223-196 vote, but the bill only recently cleared a House-Senate conference committee, and has not yet been signed into law.

Huelskamp says he has no beef with the FAA, but was bothered by particular aspects of the bill that were unfavorable to small Kansas airports.

3. Continuing Appropriations Amendments for 2011 approved 271-158 last March.

4. The Budget Control Act of 2011, approved 218-210 in a largely party line vote. Huelskamp was one of only a dozen Republicans to oppose the measure, which was not supported by any House Democrats. This was another bill to give the President new authority to raise the debt ceiling by $900 billion without approval from Congress in exchange for $756 billion in unspecified spending cuts over 10 years and the creation of a special congressional committee to propose more deficit-cutting proposals in the future

5. The Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011. It was approved by the House in July on a vote of 406-22, and was designed to extend the authorization of the national flood insurance program.

6. A bill to limit use of military appropriations by NATO forces in Libya, defeated by the House in June on a vote of 180-238. Huelskamp says his opposition was philosophical.

“I view that strictly from a constitutional perspective,” he said, citing the requirement that Congress authorize wars. “ If we wanted to be there, the president needed to make a clear argument for putting our men and women in harm’s way,” he said. He did not blame just President Obama. “I was disappointed in both parties’ leadership,” on the issue, he said.

7. The Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act of 2012. The House passed it 219-196 last July.

8. The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2012. It was approved by the House 351-67 in September and signed by President Obama.

The image that emerges of Huelskamp from these votes is of a representative less likely than Jenkins to accept budget compromises negotiated by House leaders, less likely than Jenkins to approve appropriations for military actions if they have not followed strict constitutional rules, and more likely than Jenkins to question other appropriations measures. Huelskamp agrees with some of that. But he takes issue with the suggestion that his refusal to go along with the debt ceiling compromise has put him on the outs with House Speaker John Boehner.

“I get along with him,” Huelskamp said. “He recognizes that I don’t work for him, he doesn’t’ work for me. We work for 700 000 people.”

A member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Huelskamp sees himself as a supporter of the soldier. But that does not mean he will buy in to Department of Defense spending requests, a potential sore point in the Manhattan area. “We have to look closely at every dollar we spend,” he said. He asserts that the problem is a failure to determine what the nation’s military needs and objectives are. “We have to make sure (soldiers are) adequately trained, protected and supported,” he said, “but also why they’re there.”

If the Manhattan area is moved into the First Congressional District, there’s at least one potential plum: a Congressional office, something the area has no had in decades. Manhattan would be the largest city in the district, and since it would be close to the eastern fringe a logical service point. “We’ll be talking about that,” Huelskamp said, terming it “a distinct possibility” but stopping short of a commitment.

One potential problem is that his expansive district already has three offices, in Dodge City, Hutchinson and Salina. The latter site, close to an hour from Fort Riley, has developed a particular focus on veterans and military-related issues, but obviously a Manhattan locale would be more convenient for that purpose.

The options, then, would be either to open a fourth office — rare but not unprecedented — or to relocate the Salina office to Manhattan. The latter action could be politically dicey for Sen. Pete Brungardt, a Salina Republican who voted Wednesday to shift Riley County into the First District.

“I can’t speculate that far,” Huelskamp said.

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