U.S. Congressional candidates for District 4 Ron Estes (R) and James Thompson (D) met in Pratt for a forum to share their views on Thursday, August 30.
For the first time ever, Congressman (R) Ron Estes and Democratic nominee James Thompson participated in a congressional forum, at Pratt Community College on Thursday, August 30, to help inform the public of their policy stances before facing off in the general election on November 6.
Moderated by Tracey Beverlin, Pratt County attorney, the forum was in a question-and-answer format—the questions being submitted by community members beforehand, then screened and selected for the candidates to take turns answering.
The event was a forum rather than a debate, Beverlin said, in order to ensure that each candidate was able to give as much information about policy stances as possible and to cut back on response rebuttals.
“Over the last year and four months, it has been my honor to serve as representative for the fourth district of Kansas,” Estes said. “What I’ve focused on is how we work with ideas that are important to you but also, how can we make the country better?”
Economic growth, tax cuts, regulatory reform, free and fair trade and getting the workforce prepared are several things Estes said he has been working on throughout his time in D.C.
Thompson, a civil rights attorney and veteran, did not quite agree with Estes’ analysis of his time in D.C., saying that Estes has not worked for the people of the fourth district but rather, has allowed his votes to be influenced by corporate dollars.
After growing up in poverty, Thompson said it was a high school teacher who inspired him to receive an education and dig his way out of poverty but the biggest obstacle to receiving an education, Thompson said, was figuring out how to pay for it.
“The best way for me to do that was to join the United States Army, so I was in the United States Army infantry, the Presidential Armed Guard from 1990 to 94,” Thompson said. “I got out, came back to Wichita and I used the G.I. bill, so I could go to school.”
The G.I. Bill, Thompson said, was not enough to pay for the high cost of college though, so he worked his way through school before attending Washburn Law School--realizing that he had a passion for helping veterans and for people who have been systemically oppressed—so, he became a civil rights attorney.
In response to a question about trade aid for agriculture and what measures farmers and businesses can take to avoid being hurt by the trade wars, Thompson said the people affected by the trade issues should take every cent they can to try to overcome the financial hurt they are in but he said the government payouts are unfairly playing a game of “picking and choosing.”
“Corn producers are getting half of a cent—half of a cent per bushel of their yield,” Thompson said. “So, there’s real discrepancies there, but we need to make sure that when we pass an aid package for our farmers--because of irresponsible trade tariffs—that we actually compensate our farmers and make sure that they are receiving payment for the loss of income that they have.”
Estes said free and fair trade and open markets are what farmers and manufacturers want.
“What we all know, is that countries like China have—over the last several years—violated trade agreements, have constantly looked at ways that they can bypass those free trade agreements,” Estes said. “It’s not something that has happened under the Trump administration, it’s been going on multiple decades by multiple administrations. President Trump is stepping up to the plate to address it.”
The issue right now, Estes said, is that the country is facing the “short-term pain” because tariffs are not the long-term solution and trade aid is not the solution.
“We need to focus on how to move forward to get countries like China to come to the table and to move forward,” Estes said.
In districts like the Fourth, Thompson said, people are being hurt more than in any other districts due to agriculture and manufacturing being the two main industries.
“We need a congressman in Congress that’s going to stand up and fight for this district,” Thompson said. “We don’t have that. Ron Estes is not fighting for us in Washington. He’s failed to do his job. If you’re going to stand up and fight, you need to be verbally saying, ‘No, this is wrong’ and coming out on that.”
On NAFTA, Estes said President Trump is doing a good job with revitalizing it and addressing issues that need to be addressed; Thompson said it has been—for the most part—good for farmers but bad for unions and manufacturers.
One of the biggest issues to be addressed, however, Thompson said, is reforming the election system to stop big money from influencing politics.
“I don’t take corporate PAC money. I refuse to—nobody owns me,” Thompson said. “Ron Estes can’t say the same.”
Estes said that one of the biggest issues to be addressed actually involves tax cuts and helping the economy grow but in the long term, looking at the national debt and spending—which is around $21 trillion—will prove to be one of the most important issues. Another idea that could help make the system more efficient, Estes said, is to move the U.S. Departments to states around the country rather than to have them headquartered around D.C.--for example, moving the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Kansas.
Following several negative outbursts from the audience in response to remarks by Estes made throughout the forum, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Kimberly DeClue, told the audience that the forum would not continue if people kept making remarks.
DeClue said the forum was held to help the public understand both candidates and to give both candidates the fair opportunity to answer the same questions.
"I like to make sure that my voting base is educated," DeClue said. "Some people already know who they're voting for and some people don't, so I like to give them an opportunity to really hear both sides of the aisle."
After the candidates gave their closing remarks, David Allen, resident of Kiowa County, said that he came to the forum because it was the first chance he had to see both of the candidates together.
“I wanted to see how Thompson would react—I thought he did well,” Allen said. “I thought Ron did fair, but I thought Thompson did better.”
At the meet-and-greet after the forum, Thompson and Estes met and shook hands with event attendees and answered questions that were not addressed during the forum.
Thompson said he would have preferred time during the forum to take questions from the audience rather than having question topics given to the candidates a day ahead of time, but for the most part, he thought the range of topics was good.
Aside from the heckling, Estes said the forum was a good opportunity to hear from people who live in the district and to give updates on what is happening in Congress.
"You want to make sure that you talk about the positive things and talk about the issues that you want to push forward," Estes said. "We talked a lot about trade, talked about making sure we have open markets out there, talked about the tax cuts and Jobs Act and how that's helping the economy grow."
Partisan politics and personal attacks against political opponents are both things that have become common in the political arena, Estes said, however, to pass legislation that benefits everyone, both sides of the aisle must work together.
Thompson said it would also help if politicians spent less time focusing on re-election and gathering campaign donations and spent more time working to address issues facing Americans.
It is not know if there will another forum.