In a letter printed in the February 22, 2008 Wichita Eagle, Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Tom Winters, along with Wichita State University President Don Beggs, praised some Kansas congressmen for being “very effective Washington advocates for south-central Kansas.” What the congressmen — Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, and Kansas Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts — did was to “roll up their sleeves and work on many issues that help improve our quality of life in the Wichita area.” Sounds like a noble cause, doesn’t it?
What the three congressmen did was to secure federal funding for several projects deemed important to Chairman Winters and President Beggs. In other words, they brought home the pork to Wichita in the form of earmarks. This is why efforts to reform earmarks and pork barrel spending have failed and are likely to continue to fail. Evidence of this is Tom Winters, as I believe that he would describe himself as fiscally conservative, yet he praises his congressmen when they bring home the pork.
Rep. Todd Tiahrt recently sent me a newsletter by email titled “It’s Time to End Wasteful Spending.” It told me of his goal “to find and create solutions that will benefit Kansas taxpayers.” He’s done just that, according to the letter from Winters and Beggs, and in the past too.
In 2004 the Wichita Business Journal reported on two projects where Rep. Tiahrt brought home funding to his district. One was a computer-aided dispatch system for Sedgwick County’s 911 system. The other was a grant to the Wichita Art Museum. Neither recipient of the earmarks, the director of Sedgwick County’s Emergency Communications Department and the director of the Wichita Art Museum, thought the spending qualified as pork. Most pork recipients feel the same.
Then there’s Tiahrt’s earmark for the BTK investigation. As reported in Human Events: “Tiahrt, according to ‘The Almanac of American Politics,’ has bragged that one of the ‘top 10 most gratifying things I’ve done’ is securing $1 million in an omnibus appropriations bill for the Wichita Police Department to investigate the ‘BTK’ killer.”
That’s the way it usually is. The recipients of the earmarked pork barrel spending believe the need is urgent, the cause worthy, and a federal earmark is justified. It seems that everyone across the country believes this about their own pet projects.
To Rep. Tiahrt’s credit, he has voted for earmark reform measures. But his behavior and that of our two senators, Roberts and Brownback, is to continue to bring home earmarks and pork for the good of the folks back home.
And who can blame them, really? After all, we pay taxes to the federal government. Shouldn’t we get something back? Even Ron Paul gets earmarks for his congressional district. Should Rep. Tiahrt turn down earmarks, his political opponents would have his hide for failing to look out for the needs of his district.
But with these attitudes, earmark reform will never succeed, and pork barrel politics will never end.