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Congressman contra mundum

Roe v. Wade | New to Capitol Hill but not to the pressures to compromise on pro-life principles, Kansan Tim Huelskamp says he's ready to be 'against the world'

Issue: "Babies are back," Jan. 29, 2011

WASHINGTON-Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., showed up to his second day as a congressman carrying a yellow toy dump truck and a suitcase. His son Athan, 9, trundled behind dragging another suitcase, on hand to help his dad move into his D.C. office. The phone was ringing but not at the receptionist's desk, where it was supposed to, but at a line in the back room-Capitol maintenance crews needed to rewire that. The walls and tables were bare but for one framed photo of the Huelskamp family: Tim, his wife, Angela, and their four adopted children, Natasha, 15, Rebecca, 14, Athan, and Alex, 4.

Athan is short for Athanasius, named for the early African church father who stood up to many of the leading religious leaders of his day: He famously confronted another church leader, Arius, who was teaching that Jesus Christ was not fully divine. Athanasius was exiled from Alexandria, Egypt, throughout his life for his beliefs and his epitaph reads, "Athanasius contra mundum" or "Athanasius against the world."

Tim Huelskamp, 42, wants his son to stand up to the world, as he himself aspires to do. Huelskamp, a Roman Catholic, often stood up to his own party in his past 14 years as a Kansas state senator, running more conservative on spending and family policies than other Republican colleagues.

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Huelskamp succeeded Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who just became Kansas' junior senator, and represents a vast, rural, Republican district. In the crowded primary for the seat, he defeated a candidate who had Washington Republicans' support-Rob Wasinger, former chief of staff to Sen. Sam Brownback, who was just sworn in as governor of Kansas.

While he was in the state Senate, moderate Republicans accused Huelskamp of recruiting conservative Republicans to run against them in primaries, which he didn't deny. Legislatively Huelskamp sought to strip Planned Parenthood of its state funding, a measure that finally passed the legislature in 2009 but that the Democratic governor vetoed. He wrote the amendment to the state Constitution in 2006 that voters passed overwhelmingly, defining marriage as between a man and a woman, but gay marriage isn't his only target.

He talks about restoring a "culture of marriage," so he's gone after divorce too. He worked on a measure to promote "covenant marriages," which would limit the grounds for divorce and encourage marital counseling. Under covenant marriages, the couple would have to be separated for two years before the divorce could be final. He has a beef with the whole welfare system too because he believes it discourages marriage. And he points out that single parenthood, often a result of people "enjoying the fruits of marriage outside of marriage," is correlated to poverty.

Family is what it all boils down to, in Huelskamp's view, even as he feels the urgency of the nation's fiscal crisis. The two are connected. "Fundamentally it's about what you value," he said. "We've lost our ways on a lot of fronts. You just can't spend enough to replace the family."

That's one reason why he's not sold on Republicans in Congress. He was "worried" in his first days on the Hill when he didn't hear any discussion of social issues among top Republicans. "Looking at the numbers here, certainly the numbers in the caucus are very strong," he said. "When it comes down to it, I saw it in Topeka again and again, you can say where you're at, but until you cast those votes, until you go stand behind closed doors, you talk, you're really not sure where people are at. It's so easily faked up front."

So he has appointed himself the watchdog of the class. "I'm not afraid to do that," he told me. "This is not about having fun. This is about saving our country. I would prefer to be elsewhere."

Like back on his farm. The extended Huelskamp family has about 5,000 acres of farmland, where they grow corn, wheat, soybeans, and milo. The farm was a wedding present to Huelskamp's grandparents in 1926. It is a dry piece of land. Huelskamp grew up working there, back when the family had thousands of head of cattle, which they don't anymore. The Kansas farm boy, after going through college and then some time in seminary in New Mexico, moved to Washington, D.C., to undertake doctoral work at American University.

He met Angela then, they married, and together they worked at a crisis pregnancy center in the District while he completed his Ph.D. in political science, with a specialization in Congress. ("Makes me a great farmer.") He hadn't planned to move back to Kansas, but the hired hand who was running the farm quit near harvest time. Huelskamp said he and his wife went for a walk and two hours later they decided to move back to the farm. Soon after, he ran for the Kansas state Senate and won, serving there for the next 14 years before joining the U.S. Congress.

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