Topeka As they’ve campaigned for the Senate, Republican rivals Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran have agreed on most issues, but U.S. policy toward Cuba isn’t one of them.
The two congressmen’s sharp differences were evident this week after President Barack Obama announced that he’s allowing Americans to make unlimited transfers of money and visits to relatives in Cuba.
Tiahrt denounced Obama’s action as rewarding the Castro regime. Fidel Castro ruled the Communist country for decades before ceding power last year his brother Raul.
Moran suggested Obama’s move didn’t go far enough because it doesn’t open up Cuban markets to agricultural products from Kansas.
Moran’s past focus on agriculture issues has led him to break with fellow Republicans in Congress over Cuba. He’s long advocated more openness in trade, and he criticized restrictions imposed by former President George W. Bush.
But Tiahrt spokesman Sam Sackett said Thursday that the issue for Tiahrt is national security. Tiahrt includes the Cuban government with Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez among obstacles in a global fight against terrorism.
“When it comes to foreign policy issues like this, Congressman Tiahrt stands with Ronald Reagan on this and not Barack Obama,” Sackett said. “It is a security issue, and we can’t underestimate that.”
Moran described Obama’s action, which includes allowing telecommunications firms to do business in Cuba, as a step toward bringing Democratic principles to the island nation. But he said Obama should lift restrictions on agricultural exports imposed by Bush in 2005.
“He in no way favors the current Communist regime,” said Moran spokesman Travis Murphy. “His whole angle on this has been from a Kansas agriculture perspective.”
Moran has represented the sprawling 1st District, which includes western Kansas, since 1997. Tiahrt has held the seat for the 4th District of south-central Kansas since 1995.
They’re seeking the Senate seat of Sam Brownback, a Republican who’s running for governor next year.
Both candidates have said their positions on fiscal issues and even social issues such as abortion aren’t much different. Instead, they’ve argued, the question for voters is who will be the best candidate and work most effectively for the state.
That makes their differences on Cuba more striking.
Murphy said Moran is approaching the issue as a longtime advocate of open markets. He said American farmers might be able to sell up to $1 billion worth of goods each year in Cuba.
“Jerry has always been strongly in favor of opening up markets,” Murphy said. “It’s hard to argue that this wouldn’t be good for Kansas agriculture and the free market system.”
But Sackett said Tiahrt is skeptical that American producers would benefit, given the Cuban government’s ongoing problems with repaying foreign loans on time. Tiahrt said the U.S. should insist on the release of political prisoners, free speech and free elections.
“Congressman Tiahrt is a strong supporter of Kansas farmers and open markets, but he’s not going to support a policy that lines the pockets of Communist leaders,” Sackett said.