Midterms

Estes vs. Thompson campaign a stand-in for the Trump-Sanders race that never was

Congressman Ron Estes heads to the general election after GOP win

Rep. Ron Estes talks with the media after his victory in the GOP race for House representative of the 4th District of Kansas at the Wichita Area Builders Association office in downtown Wichita. (Aug. 7, 2018)
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Rep. Ron Estes talks with the media after his victory in the GOP race for House representative of the 4th District of Kansas at the Wichita Area Builders Association office in downtown Wichita. (Aug. 7, 2018)

If you’re looking for a surrogate campaign to make up for the Donald Trump/Bernie Sanders battle that never was, the Kansas 4th District congressional contest could be the race for you.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Ron Estes has pinned his campaign to the president’s record in office over the past two years, while Democratic challenger James Thompson has aligned himself with Sanders, the iconoclastic Vermont senator who bedeviled Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primaries.

(FILE VIDEO - JULY 20, 2018) Sen. Bernie Sanders and rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came to Wichita on behalf of James Thompson, who is running for Kansas' 4th Congressional District seat during a rally at Century II.

In the campaign’s biggest event, Thompson shared the stage with Sanders at a massive rally that brought 4,000 fans to the Century II convention center in July.

Estes was a featured speaker at a rally this month by Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, who came to Wichita primarily to stump for governor candidate Kris Kobach and raise money for the Republican Governors Association.

While the crowd was smaller, about 300 — and quieter — they paid between $150 and $10,000 each to get in.

Tax plan debated

Estes and Thompson take very different stances on major issues, but one of their biggest disagreements is taxes.

Estes is a strong supporter of tax cuts enacted at Trump’s behest, which he says has helped the economy.

“It’s been a marvelous two years,” Estes said at the Pence rally. “Our economy is going so great. . . . We’re just seeing so many positive things, so many good results. Businesses are hiring more people, paying raises, bonuses.”

He cited several companies and their employees as “being better off now because of what we’ve accomplished over the past two years,” including Textron, Fidelity Bank and Cox Communications.

In a debate with Thompson sponsored by The Eagle and KPTS-TV, Estes said the tax cuts are expected to grow the national economy by $6 billion in the next 10 years.

But in that same debate, Thompson said the tax cuts have benefited billionaires at the expense of working Americans, are ballooning the national deficit because they’re not paired with spending cuts, and are “just another example of lobbyists and campaign donors getting their way in Congress.”

He likened the national tax plan to the tax policies of former Gov. Sam Brownback, which were partially repealed last year after promised economic growth didn’t materialize and state budget shortfalls ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We’ve seen firsthand the disastrous effects of the tax polices of Brownback here in this state,” Thompson said. Republicans have “taken those tax breaks now to the national level and we’re going to destroy the national economy, the way Mr. Estes and Sam Brownback destroyed the economy here.”

Estes was educated as a civil engineer and worked in manufacturing industries before transitioning to politics. He served as Sedgwick County treasurer and then state treasurer before his election to Congress last year.

Thompson is a civil rights attorney who has represented plaintiffs in police abuse cases and serves on a Wichita city board seeking to reduce racial profiling and improve police/community relations.

Race is a rematch of 2017

The race is a rematch of last year’s special election to fill the seat vacated when Rep. Mike Pompeo left Wichita to join the Trump administration, first as CIA director and now as secretary of state.

Thompson, running for the first time in a shortened campaign, lost 52 percent to 46 percent. That was an unusually strong showing for a Democrat in the 4th District, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 186,000 to 95,000.

Thompson won Sedgwick County, the biggest prize on the board with included twice as many voters as the rest of the district put together. But Estes, a familiar name on the ballot, beat Thompson in all 16 of the district’s other counties.

Thompson has spent the last year and a half campaigning in those suburban and rural counties, papering his Facebook feed with parade pictures and meet-and-greets in towns like Winfield, El Dorado, Kingman and Pratt.

Thompson hasn’t fully embraced Sanders’ self-described platform of democratic socialism, but does support key aspects of it, including a public option for health care that would be similar to Medicare, but for younger people.

In the meantime, he supports keeping and improving the Affordable Care Act, which he says is currently the best vehicle to ensure maximum access to health care.

Estes is a strong opponent of the ACA and has vowed to repeal it. He favors “free market solutions” centered on deregulation of insurance and expansion of tax-advantaged health savings accounts.

Sharp disagreement between Estes and Thompson

Other areas where the two candidates sharply disagree:

Immigration: Estes supports the president on building a wall along the southern border to deter unauthorized immigration by Mexicans and other Latin Americans, strict enforcement of immigration law and a crackdown on “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities on deportation.

Thompson supports streamlining the process of becoming an American citizen and supports the DACA program that defers enforcement of deportation and makes it possible to obtain work permits for unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as small children. The Trump administration has worked to reverse DACA, but has been blocked by court action.

Minumum wage: Thompson supports increasing the minimum wage, saying that it is unacceptable for people who work full time to have to subsist below the poverty line.

Estes opposes raising the minimum wage, saying it would force employers to cut their workforces to compensate and make the situation worse.

Marijuana: Thompson supports full legalization of marijuana. He said that could help stem the epidemic of addiction to opium-based pain killers, especially for cancer patients and veterans and others who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders. Tax income from marijuana sales and savings from reducing jail populations would boost funding for schools, police and other priorities, he said.

Estes isn’t entirely opposed to marijuana, but said it would be premature to legalize it now. He wants to wait for more data from Colorado and other states that have legalized it to assess both benefits to individuals and costs to law enforcement and employers.

Abortion: Estes strongly opposes abortion and supports federal restrictions, including “pain capable” legislation that would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.

Thompson supports abortion rights and said he would oppose any further restrictions on a woman’s right to choose.

Guns: Thompson says he supports the Second Amendment, but supports closing the “gun-show loophole” that allows people to buy weapons on the private market without a background check they’d need to buy from a licensed gun dealer.

Estes has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and vowed to oppose more gun control.

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

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