An Officer And A Free Marketeer

“One of the very first serious books I read when I was growing up was Atlas Shrugged,” Rep. Mike Pompeo (R.-Kan.) told me recently, referring to Ayn Rand’s timeless classic that was finally made into a motion picture this year, “and it really had an impact on me. I spent my whole life working hard.”

To anyone who knows the freshman lawmaker from Kansas’s 4th District (Wichita), that’s a major understatement. After graduation from Harvard Law School in 1989 and a stint at the high-powered Williams and Connolly law firm, Pompeo co-founded Thayer Aerospace Co. in Wichita, Kan. In ’05, he became Chief Executive Officer of Sentry International, a company that manufactures oil and gas equipment. Five years later, Pompeo’s company had annual gross assets of over $80 million.

But just as there was much more to Rand’s fictional Henry Rearden than simply being a steel company president, there was more to Mike Pompeo than being a corporate CEO.

Raised in Orange County, California, the young Pompeo was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point by his family’s congressman at the time, fire-breathing conservative Republican Robert K. Dornan—“and that should give you an idea of where I’m coming from politically if ‘B-1 Bob’ chose me for West Point,” Pompeo said.

After graduating first in the “long gray line” of 1986, Pompeo spent more than five years in Germany and, on border duty during the twilight days of the Cold War. He rose to the rank of captain.

Having achieved distinction in uniform and in private business, Pompeo soon threw himself into community activities and local politics in Wichita. He made a bid for Republican state chairman, but lost to fellow conservative Kris Kobach. Pompeo rebounded and, at the very next state convention, was elected Republican National Committeeman. (In winning the race for chairman, Kobach triumphed over Pompeo and then-State Sen. Tim Huelskamp. Today, Kobach is the Sunflower State’s secretary of state and Pompeo and Huelskamp serve together in Congress).

When eight-term Rep. Todd Tiahrt decided to seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2010, Pompeo decided to run for his open House district. Four other Republicans joined the fray. The biggest concern of conservatives was that Pompeo and oilman Wink Hartman would divide the votes and money on the right and permit State Sen. Jean Scholdorof—who took decidedly less-than-conservative stands on cultural and economic issues—to win the primary with a plurality.

Both Hartman and Pompeo campaigned hard. Hartman, in fact, spent over $2 million of his personal wealth on the race and saturated the airwaves with commercials. Pompeo did not come close to spending that amount. But with his wife and son, and their friends, “we worked our tails off. We went door to door and I addressed every service club or organizations, or any group of two or more that would invite me.”

The businessman-candidate’s tenacity and his message of being someone who had a deep understanding of the job-creation world gave him an edge. Pompeo also found a friendly audience in the various “Tea Parties” throughout Wichita with his message of lower taxes, deregulation and greater freedom resonating with their members.

In a very late primary night in August, Pompeo edged out Schodorof with 39% of the vote. Hartman came in third, followed by the other two Republicans. But the race for Congress was not over by a long shot. As the GOP hopeful recalled, “we raised and spent so much to win the primary that we really were running on fumes in the fall. It really was a bad cycle for fundraising.”

Perhaps sensing this, Democrats in Kansas and nationwide pumped in more than $800,000 for their candidate, Raj Goyle, a former state legislator and official of a leading left-wing think-tank, the Center for American Progress. But Democrats obviously misjudged the nature of the 4th District: Although he was outspent and had come out of an exhausting primary, Mike Pompeo rolled up a handsome 59% of the vote.

‘I Eat and Breathe Small Government And Freedom’

Rep. Pompeo spoke to HUMAN EVENTS between meetings of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he was lining up opposition to the Natural Gas Act (H.R. 1380). This bill would provide up to $4,000 per vehicle in tax subsidies for car companies who build natural gas vehicles and up to $100,000 in tax subsidies for natural gas fuel stations.

“What this boils down to is the government backing one sector of the energy industry over another,” said Pompeo. “The free market is working and we’re already seeing natural gas vehicles purchased by private companies and production of natural gas vehicles such as Honda’s Civic Gx.”

At the same time, the Kansan has offered House Resolution 267, which says the U.S. “should allow energy companies to innovate” and “end all subsidies that aim to pick winners and losers in the energy market place.”

That’s Mike Pompeo in a nutshell, someone with a passion for the free-market system. The freshman lawmaker also wants to apply that passion to the Clean Air Act, which, in his words, “has a series of regulations that will drive the cost of compliance with regulation up significantly and hurt American workers.”

“Sometimes I think people live in a parallel universe when they say all we need are a few more regulations.”

After listening to the freshman congressman, it is was really no surprise to find on March 21 that the far-left, pro-Democratic Washington Post had devoted nearly a half page to an article about Pompeo and two of his district’s most prominent business leaders, Charles and David Koch, two of the left’s favorite targets. With a headline blaring that “Pompeo turns to Koch in business, politics” and ominous-sounding subtitles such as “Corporate Contributions,” the Post noted that Koch Industries, which has holdings in oil, paper and other interests, is run by brothers Charles and David Koch, “longtime conservatives.” The Koch brothers, said the Post, “have told supporters they plan to spend tens of millions of dollars on the 2012 elections” and that Pompeo was the top recipient in the nation of donations from Koch employees and Koch-related political action committees.

So, concluded the Post, does this support somehow translate into Pompeo proposing “legislation in his first weeks in office that could benefit many of Koch’s business interests [?]… to eliminate funding for two major Obama Administration programs: a database cataloguing consumer complaints about unsafe products and an Environmental Protection Agency registry of greenhouse gas polluters.”

“And that shows just how little the Post knows about me or the 4th District,” shot back Pompeo, who said, yes, he has met both Koch brothers, but doesn’t know either well. “If the Post knew me, they would know I’m out here arguing for smaller government because I believe in it. And so do my constituents.”

The 4th District is, according to its congressman, “incredibly entrepreneurial. It’s home to Pizza Hut and Cessna Jets. Bill Lear [of Lear Jets] came from Wichita, as do a lot of oil and gas guys and the Koch brothers. You won’t find a bigger risk-taker than a Kansan—and we all give back to our community with philanthropy and supporting churches and schools.”

As for himself, Mike Pompeo says: “I eat and breathe small government and freedom.”