Tea Party favorite to lead conservative think tank

Tea Party favorite to lead conservative think tank
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Former Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, the conservative who was ousted in his GOP primary last year, will become president of the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank based just outside of Chicago, The Hill has learned.

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Huelskamp confirmed he will replace Joseph Bast, who has led the conservative and libertarian-leaning institute since it was founded in 1984.

Huelskamp, 48, will start at Heartland next month.

“It’s a really good fit,” said Huelskamp, the former chairman of the Tea Party Caucus and a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus.

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“I have a background of 20 years in electoral politics — 14 years in the state Senate, six years in Congress — and they are influencing every state legislature in the country; they are affecting free-market policies across the country and in Washington.”

His hiring means there will be no 2018 rematch between Huelskamp and the Chamber of Commerce-backed obstetrician, freshman Rep. Roger Marshall, who ousted him in last year’s GOP primary in Kansas’s 1st Congressional District.

A fifth-generation farmer, Huelskamp had also flirted with running for the neighboring House seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.).

Heartland has roughly 40 employees based at its headquarters in Arlington Heights, Ill., and hundreds of advisers around the country.

As the new Heartland president, Huelskamp said the think tank will continue pushing for eliminating Environmental Protection Agency regulations and challenging “climate change alarmists” like former President Obama and former Vice President Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreScott defeats Nelson in Florida Senate race after bitter recount fight Incoming Michigan Dem will not back Pelosi Florida has chance to redeem itself MORE; advocate for school choice and voucher programs; and offer assistance to states navigating ObamaCare and the current healthcare fight.

“I have big shoes to fill given the tremendous leadership of Joe Bast and the Heartland team,” Huelskamp said in the phone interview.

Huelskamp rode the Tea Party wave to Washington in 2010 and quickly emerged as a thorn in the side of House GOP leadership, particularly then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerEthics panel reprimands Freedom Caucus chairman over handling of harassment allegations Pelosi allies rage over tactics of opponents Meet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time MORE (R-Ohio).

After Huelskamp repeatedly bucked leaders on key votes, BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerEthics panel reprimands Freedom Caucus chairman over handling of harassment allegations Pelosi allies rage over tactics of opponents Meet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time MORE ousted the Kansan from both the Budget and Agriculture committees. Huelskamp tried to get reappointed to the Agriculture panel but was unsuccessful. In 2016, his primary opponent — backed by Kansas agricultural interests — seized on the issue, arguing that Huelskamp was not properly representing his agriculture-heavy district and state.

His defeat last year created bad blood between Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPoll: Trump easily defeats potential GOP rivals in hypothetical primary matchups Ethics panel calls on House, Senate leaders to act on anti-sexual harassment bill The Hill's Morning Report — Are Pelosi’s Democratic detractors going too far? MORE (R-Wis.) and Huelskamp’s allies in the Freedom Caucus, the same group that forced Boehner out of the Speaker’s office in 2015.

Ryan had helped Huelskamp win a Small Business subcommittee gavel and a seat on the influential Steering Committee. But Freedom leaders complained that Ryan had not done enough to stop the Chamber’s attacks on Huelskamp or reinstate him on the Agriculture panel, and threatened to retaliate against the Speaker.

Huelskamp now seems ready to move on. In a followup statement, Huelskamp said he was “honored and excited” to join Heartland.

“Since I have already been successful at driving innovative policies at both the state and federal level,” he said, “I am confident that I can lead Heartland toward even greater success in promoting the cause of freedom in every state, and now in Washington, D.C.”