Republican leaders in the U.S. House kicked U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp off the House Agriculture and House Budget committees this week -- a move that dismayed many in the state's powerful agriculture sector.
In a statement on his congressional website, Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said he was given "limited explanation for his removal," but that his "consistent, principled, and conservative votes have riled the GOP Establishment."
House Speaker John Boehner, in the midst of critical budget negotiations over the "fiscal cliff," removed other conservatives from their committee posts as well -- Justin Amash of Michigan from the House budget committee, and Reps. Walter Jones of North Carolina and David Schweikert of Arizona from the House Financial Services Committee.
Reaction in Kansas was dismayed surprise.
On Friday, Huelskamp delivered a legislative update at the Kansas Livestock Association annual meeting in Wichita. On Tuesday, agriculture groups across Kansas were scrambling to find out more about the move and answer members' calls and e-mails.
The verdict is that losing representation on the House Agriculture Committee is a blow to the state and its agricultural interests.
"It certainly puts our members and Kansas as one of the top ag states at a signficant disadvantage in setting federal policy," said Aaron Popelka, vice president of legal and governmental affairs for the KLA.
"Having somebody from the Big First on House Ag has been extremely important and deserving because of the amount of wheat and agriculture that come from there," said Justin Gilpin, CEO of the Kansas Wheat Commission.
A congressman from the First District, known as the Big First because it includes more than half the state, has helped shape federal farm policy on the House Agriculture Committee since at least the start of the 20th century and possibly since Kansas became a state in 1861, said Chapman Rackaway, an associate professor at Fort Hays State University.
Among the First District congressmen who have played big roles on the agriculture committee were Bob Dole, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran -- all of whom ran successfully from the First District seat to the Senate.
Huelskamp is suffering the consequences of his particularly uncompromising form of conservatism in a body that really exists to make deals and balance competing interests, Rackaway said.
Not only did he vote against the agreement in the summer of 2011 to raise the government's debt ceiling, but he opposed the budget blueprint written by his budget committee chairman Republican Paul Ryan.
In his statement on his website, Huelskamp said: "The GOP leadership might think they have silenced conservatives, but removing me and others from key committees only confirms our conservative convictions. This is clearly a vindictive move, and a sure sign that the GOP Establishment cannot handle disagreement."
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Tuesday that the party's steering committee made the decision "based on a range of factors."
Rackaway noted that Huelskamp not only has failed to support positions of the GOP leadership, but he's been abrasive in advancing his opinions, rubbing others the wrong way both personally and politically.
It's a pattern that's not new, Rackaway said. Huelskamp was removed from the Kansas Senate's Ways and Means Committee when he served there. And reports of hard feelings between Boehner and Huelskamp started almost immediately after he reached Washington in early 2011.
"These negotiations over the fiscal cliff may have been the final straw, but this has been building up for two years," Rackaway said. "Among folks in the know, there is not any great secret they don't like each other on a personal level."
The move is underscoring a divide in the Republican Party between tea party-supported conservatives and the House GOP leadership.
"This is a clear attempt on the part of Republican leadership to punish those in Washington who vote the way they promised their constituents they would -- on principle -- instead of mindlessly rubber-stamping trillion dollar deficits and the bankrupting of America," said Matt Kibbe, president of the tea party group FreedomWorks.
All four of the lawmakers who lost their committee assignments voted against the summer 2011 deal negotiated between Republican leaders and President Barack Obama for extending the government's ability to borrow money in exchange for $1 trillion in spending cuts and the promise of another $1 trillion in reduced deficits. Three of the four, the exception being Schweikert, voted against the Ryan-written GOP budget blueprint that the House passed last March.
Their removal from key committees with jurisdiction over the two issues was viewed by some as a signal to other Republican lawmakers to look favorably on whatever final deal Boehner and Obama put together to avert a "fiscal cliff" combination of automatic tax increases and spending cuts in January.
Contributing: The Associated Press