“I’m totally new to politics—I was inspired to run by Bernie. After the election, I decided to get out from behind my Facebook keyboard and try to make a difference, so I decided to run for office,” says James Thompson, a Kansas civil-rights attorney whose Bernie Sanders–style bid for an open Kansas House seat has spooked Republicans in Washington.
As Tuesday’s special-election vote approached, the National Republican Congressional Committee poured money into a last-minute media blitz to prevent Thompson from taking the seat vacated by Donald Trump’s CIA director, former congressman Mike Pompeo. House Speaker Paul Ryan even issued a “personal request” that donors open their checkbooks for the Republican candidate, Ron Estes, in “one of the most important House races in the country.”
Mike Pompeo was known as the “Koch Brothers’ Congressman” and “the congressman from Koch” because of his steady subservience to the right-wing agenda of billionaire campaign donors Charles and David Koch. Koch Industries is headquartered in Wichita, the largest city in the Fourth Congressional District that Thompson hopes to grab from the Republicans—and their wealthy patrons.
Thompson is running a campaign that proudly embraces the “not the billionaires” ethic of Sanders’s 2016 presidential bid. Raised in poverty—he quit high school to support his family at a time when they were living in a van—Thompson says he is running to preserve public education, health-care protections, and the social safety net that helped him make it from the streets to law school, and that Koch-backed candidates propose to shred.
“It’s in the first sentence of the Constitution—promote the general welfare,” says Thompson. “We must provide a certain level of safety for everybody… make sure it’s accessible.”
That’s not a message that billionaires and their networks of Republican campaign donors embrace. As The Topeka Capital-Journal reported last week, big money is being spent to save Estes, the Republican who wants to be the next “congressman from Koch.” “Among the political action committees contributing more than $93,000 to Estes’ campaign are groups tied to Koch Industries and to various conservative political organizations,” noted the paper. “Also funneling money into his campaign were the political action committees for industry groups such as the American Bankers Association, National Association of Home Builders, National Business Aviation Association, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, among others.”