Conestoga CEO, Huelskamp duke it out publicly
By SCOTT AUST
A prominent southwest Kansas renewable energy executive claims Congressman Tim Huelskamp bullied him and threatened his business after he questioned Huelskamp following a July 2 Republican primary debate in Liberal between Huelskamp and Alan LaPolice.
Tom Willis, CEO for Conestoga Energy Partners, said he approached Huelskamp, R-Fowler, following the debate to voice concerns one-on-one about some of Huelskamp's recent votes. He expected a political answer, but claims he got something else.
Willis, Liberal, has submitted a letter to the editor, which appears on page four of today's Hays Daily News.
"Congressman Huelskamp lost his temper with me. He threatened me and my business by saying, 'I will make you pay when I get back to D.C.,' " Willis wrote. "He swore to 'remember me for not supporting his candidacy' in Washington."
As a result, Willis, who said he supported Huelskamp with his vote and checkbook the past four years, is urging people to vote against Huelskamp on Aug. 5.
"After seeing this side of our congressman, I now understand his track record of being kicked off nearly every committee he has been assigned to, going back over a decade to his state legislative days," Willis wrote.
Willis also appears in a video ad paid for by a political action committee called Now or Never PAC that asks voters not to support Huelskamp.
Tyler Harber, spokesperson for Now or Never PAC, issued a statement encouraging Kansas voters to "seek alternatives" to Huelskamp.
"The congressman's vote against the critical House farm bill that benefited farmers across Kansas is indicative of his disconnect with his constituents," the statement reads. "He has since been removed from the House Agricultural Committee, and for the first time in 100 years, Kansas has no representation on the committee overseeing the state's primary industry. Kansas' lack of national leadership to protect its farmers marks a concern for voters all across the state."
Based in Kansas City, Mo., the Now or Never PAC is not affiliated with any candidate or candidate's committee. Established in 2012, it supports conservative candidates and causes across the country. Harber said no one hired NONpac; the organization makes independent expenditure decisions on its own.
According to Federal Election Commission filings, Now or Never PAC has spent $108,505 on media production and mailers opposed to Huelskamp. According to the Wall Street Journal, the PAC has spent more than $7.7 million on support or opposition to various candidates since 2012.
Willis said four years ago he thought Huelskamp was someone who would put western Kansas interests before personal politics, and was surprised when the congressman was removed from the Agriculture Committee and voted against the farm bill despite the concerns of farmers and farming organizations in the state.
"With congressmen like this in Washington, is it no wonder why D.C. is broken? We deserve a congressman who fights for Kansas, and not for himself," Willis said.
When asked for comment, Travis Couture-Lovelady, R-Palco, and Huelskamp's campaign manager, said in an emailed response the Willis ad is about wealthy campaign donors demanding political favors, and accused Willis of a personal attack that doesn't deserve a response.
"Suffice it to say that Willis is grumpy because Tim Huelskamp stands on principle against Washington politicians handing out special government benefits to campaign contributors, and Willis and the secret, out-of-state group that paid for the attack ad want to replace Huelskamp with a Congressman who will do their bidding," Couture-Lovelady said.
The Huelskamp campaign also pointed out that Willis is a donor to Huelskamp's primary challenger LaPolice.
According to the Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports, Willis made $2,500 in contributions to Kansas Conservatives for Alan LaPolice in June for the primary election and the general election.
Willis freely admits to donating to the LaPolice campaign after growing disillusioned with Huelskamp.
"As a concerned constituent and farmer, I believe it is time we change who we send to Washington, D.C. It's clear our congressman is tone deaf to the interests of Kansas agriculture, as well as the jobs and economic impact provided to this area of the state," Willis said.
Couture-Lovelady also said that during the post-debate conversation, Willis promised to contribute to Huelskamp if Huelskamp would change his position to support special preferences for Conestoga.
"Tim Huelskamp is not going to be bullied by anyone or any special interest group, no matter how big their checkbook," Couture-Lovelady said. "His only special interest is the people of Kansas and the principles which we believe."
Willis called Huelskamp's assertion implying some sort of bribe a lie.
"I flatly deny what Congressman Huelskamp is accusing me of," Willis said. "That did not happen, whatsoever."
Willis said he approached Huelskamp to talk about ag policy and also explained the reasons he wasn't supporting Huelskamp in the upcoming election.
"The thing I most disagree with Tim on is how he goes about trying to get stuff done," Willis said. "I agree with 98 percent of the conservative principles he stands for, but he doesn't get along with people, he's been kicked off committee after committee, and I do not agree with that. You can't be an effective leader if you can't even get your own party to rally around you and support you."
LaPolice, who is challenging Huelskamp in the Aug. 5 Republican primary, said Huelskamp's threats were the "most inappropriate thing I've ever heard."
While he thinks voters ought to know about Huelskamp's behavior, LaPolice said he had nothing to do with Willis's letter or the PAC's ad.
"He shouldn't represent Kansas," LaPolice said of Huelskamp. "It doesn't surprise me that he would attack someone who doesn't agree with him. Isn't that what he promises to do -- fight aggressively with anyone and everyone not 100 percent aligned with him? This is another embarrassment for our district, and another reason his approach must change."