Since 1861, when Kansas was admitted to the union, its importance as an agricultural player has been undisputed. For being the largest wheat producer in the country, Congress has rewarded this state's delegation with basically a standing seat on the House Agriculture Committee for 151 years.
Fifteen consecutive representatives of the 1st District served on the Ag Committee -- until last week, when Rep. Tim Huelskamp abruptly was removed.
It wasn't as if agriculture was lessening in importance. Far from it. Agriculture remains the largest industry in Kansas, producing billions of dollars in exports annually. Kansas ranks at or near the top nationally in wheat, sunflower, sorghum and beef production. Kansas farmers still feed 154 people -- and you.
As it turns out, it was Huelskamp himself that was lessening in importance for the Republican Party. Voting against the party leadership line on key votes such as raising the debt ceiling, a compromise defict-reduction plan, and the budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, apparently was enough to remove Huelskamp from the Ag Committee and the Budget Committee as well. Or it could have been a pre-emptive move by Speaker John Boehner as the two parties attempt to find agreement to avoid pushing the country over the fiscal cliff. Boehner likely predicted a "no" vote from the Kansas congressman on any package that would include a tax increase.
The specific reason remains unknown -- or at least not articulated to Huelskamp. So he's left to speculate why he and three other House members were punished.
"The GOP leadership might think they have silenced conservatives, but removing me and others from key committees only confirms our conservative convictions," he said in a statement Tuesday. "This is clearly a vindictive move and a sure sign that the GOP establishment cannot handle disagreement.
"It is little wonder why Congress has a 16 percent approval rating: Americans send principled representatives to change Washington and get punished in return," Huelskamp said.
We seriously doubt the congressman is being punished for his conservative convictions. Despite solid national majorities favoring reproductive rights, cultural diversity and ending discrimination against gay Americans, the GOP prides itself on maintaining status-quo positions on social issues.
We would suspect it's his inability to play well with others that's gotten him in trouble. Through its remarkable system of checks and balances, the U.S. Constitution effectively demands compromise and negotiation to get things done. One person can't arrive in the nation's capital and get his way all the time. It just won't happen.
Still, Huelskamp indicated he's unapologetic for the "principled, conservative stances (he) took in the past two years."
Leaving all the social issues alone, our representative's insistence on principles have not been the most prudent from a fiscal perspective.
His vote against raising the national debt limit was pointless. The country already had enough obligations that it was going to surpass that ceiling without adding one cent in new spending. The uncertainty created by all the "no" votes at the time led to a downgrade in the nation's credit rating.
His promise to Grover Norquist or his constituents, depending on who's telling the story, to never raise taxes would have had the effect of raising taxes at the end of last year. The same stance would have pushed us over the fiscal cliff this year, which still could happen.
Huelskamp's unwillingness to compromise a single thing has left him on the outs with his own party. Unfortunately, he's compromised key sectors of the 1st District and the entire state by getting booted off the Ag and Budget committees.
Not having someone from Kansas pushing issues "certainly makes it more challenging for those of us in Kansas to develop good farm policy," said Minneapolis area farmer Steve Baccus, who is president of Kansas Farm Bureau.
Huelskamp's exclusion from the committees is "a deep source of embarrassment for Kansas," said Vance Ehmke, a Lane County farmer and a former state Kansas Association of Wheat Growers president. "We have just become way less influential."
We should have seen this coming. Huelskamp was removed from key committees in 2003 while serving in the Kansas Senate because of regular disagreements with party leaders.
Refusing to bargain might be acceptable to tea party types, but it's not a good deal for the 1st District. We need a representative at the table, not relegated to the hallway.
For the sake of constituents, we would hope Rep. Huelskamp does whatever is necessary to get back in the game. And then remember he doesn't get to make the rules.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry