Tuesday, June 10. 2014
The Wichita Eagle ran my little "Opinion Line" squib yesterday:
Opinion Line is anonymous, limited to 50 words or less (mine was 36, but still half again too long for Twitter), published daily next to the letters on the editorial page. Mine refers back to May 30, when the front page article was "Final Air Force plane leaves Boeing Wichita" while Tiahrt's announcement that the former congressman (1995-2011) would run against incumbent Mike Pompeo (2011-) in the Republican primary was further back.
Some background: Stearman Aircraft was founded in Wichita in 1927, one of several dozen airplane companies back then. Stearman wound up as part of Boeing in the late 1930s, and Boeing's Wichita plant grew enormously during WWII, becoming the main manufacturer of a series of Boeing bombers (B-17, B-29, B-47, B-52). My father worked at Boeing for 38 years, and my brother for 23, but Boeing started breaking down their Wichita operations (for several reasons, one of which was that Wichita was the most heavily unionized plant Boeing had). In 2005, most of the plant was merged into a private equity company called Spirit AeroSystems, set up by Onex. At the time, Boeing kept the small military part of the plant attached to McConnell Air Force Base. A large part of their military business was maintenance of the KC-135 tankers based at McConnell, but Boeing came up with a scam to replace the aging tanker fleet with planes modified from the obsolete 777 commercial airliner. The leading advocate in Congress for those tankers was Todd Tiahrt -- so much so that Bush's nickname for Tiahrt was Tanker Todd. All through the long sales effort Wichita was promised 1,000 jobs if the deal went through, but as soon as it did, Boeing announced they would close their Wichita plant and move the work elsewhere.
Tiahrt was first elected to congress in 1994. He was one of the crop of political activists who developed out of the so-called "Summer of Mercy" when anti-abortion activists targeted Wichita. He was on Boeing's payroll before he was elected, and remained as one of Boeing's most reliable lackies throughout his eight terms. He was a religious fanatic, but he was also very close to Tom DeLay and deeply involved in the culture of corruption around DeLay. (DeLay rewarded Tiahrt with a seat on the House Appropriations Committee.) Tiahrt was an extreme right-winger, but not the sort of principled Tea Partier who would vote against Big Pharma's Medicare drugs scam.
In 2010 Tiahrt ran for an open Senate seat and lost the Republican primary to Jerry Moran, also a Congressman initially elected in 1994, but slightly more libertarian, and much closer to the Kochs. Tiahrt's seat was picked up by Mike Pompeo, a businessman very close to the Kochs. Tiahrt tried his hand as consulting, and seems to have been involved in Boeing's decision to leave Wichita. Pompeo, meanwhile, has been relatively active in Congress. He's worked hard to promote the Kochs' line on ending subsidies for renewable energy (even though wind power is very popular here in Kansas), and he's generally been critical of the sort of "corporate welfare" that Tiahrt specialized in (although I don't think he's questioned the Air Force tanker deal, and he managed to pass a deregulatory bill that's very popular with local general aviation interests). But he's also taken a very hawkish stand in favor of the NSA spying on Americans -- most libertarians are against those things, but the Kochs don't seem to care much as long as it doesn't affect their bottom line. And he's a West Point graduate, so jingoistically pro-military he got appointed to the House's Benghazi! circus committee.
In short, Pompeo is awful, but Tiahrt is evil. It's hard to know where to start. It's not just his perfect sense for the worst possible policies -- his tireless promotion of the Boeing tanker scam, his "Tiahrt amendment" sheltering deals between gun sellers and criminals, his campaign to send US troops into the Philippines in 2001 (resulting in needless deaths), barely start the list -- but also his sanctimonious demeanor and charismatic appeal to the worst instincts of his followers. (And, of course, who know why one of his sons killed himself? What can I say? The guy is downright creepy.)
Pompeo was recently reported as having $2.1 million left in his campaign slush fund. Tiahrt routinely collected more money than that. Good chance the campaign will be nasty and brutish.
Some more Opinion Line today, by others but along similar lines:
I can't forsee much fun in this campaign, but I do hope that both drain their campaign coffers in the primary, and in the process thoroughly expose themselves to be the malignant political forces they both are.
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