Ron Estes, who eked out a victory in a surprisingly close special election in Kansas’s 4th District Tuesday, is a stalwart but unflashy conservative with a background in engineering and state finance.
Estes, the state treasurer of Kansas, succeeds Mike Pompeo who resigned from the House on Jan. 23 to become director of the CIA.
A civil engineer by training, Estes earned a masters degree in business administration from Tennessee Technological University before working for several companies including Procter & Gamble, Koch Industries, and Bombardier Learjet.
Alluding to his engineering background, Estes said in a March 28 television debate with his two opponents, Democrat James Thompson and Libertarian Chris Rockhold, “We need more leaders in Washington who will do more with less — and that’s how we engineer real change.”
During that debate he also said a wall with Mexico, as proposed by President Donald Trump, must be part of guarding the border, along with surveillance by unmanned aerial vehicles and the deployment of Border Patrol agents.
Estes also argued that the process for foreigners seeking to legally immigrate to the United States is too burdensome and time-consuming and ought to be streamlined.
Although not specific about U.S. overseas commitments and alliances, Estes did give hints of skepticism about foreign entanglements during that debate. “Not everybody in the world who is an opponent of our opponent is necessarily going to be a friend of ours,” he said.
Estes served two terms as treasurer of Sedgwick County, Kansas — home to Wichita — before being elected state treasurer in 2010.
In his state treasurer job, he put a priority on alerting Kansans to unclaimed money which they may own or may have inherited, such as funds from forgotten bank accounts and the contents of abandoned safe deposit boxes.
The state treasurer’s office has custody of such unclaimed assets. In 2016, Estes said his office had returned $100 million in unclaimed property since he became state treasurer.
In January 2017, he launched a new savings program for people with disabilities, which allows them to set aside up to $100,000 for education, job training or other needs without losing benefits and without having to pay taxes on the money they invest. He argued that the program “has the ability to transform the lives of people with disabilities from dependence to independence.”
The state finances of Kansas have suffered in recent years, partly due to a tax cut passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012.
In order to bridge budget gaps, Brownback and the legislature resorted to cutting spending on public schools, transferring money from the state highway fund to the general fund, and deferring contributions to the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, or KPERS.
As state treasurer, Estes had no authority over taxes and spending, but he did serve as a KPERS trustee. According to The Wichita Eagle, Estes has clashed with Brownback over the state’s underfunding of KPERS.
Goals and aims
Estes offers a fairly orthodox variety of conservatism and is likely to fit comfortably within the House Republican mainstream. On his campaign website, he said, “I am proudly pro-life, and as your congressman, I will lead the fight to protect the unborn. One of my top priorities will be to defund Planned Parenthood. American taxpayers should not be forced to fund organizations that perform abortions.”
Estes drew some criticism during the House campaign when he said at a joint appearance with his Democratic opponent Thompson that before the enactment of the 2010 health care law, “there were some folks who chose not to get insurance,” but he added that some people couldn’t afford to purchase insurance due to their pre-existing health conditions.
Estes said during his debate with Thompson and Rockhold that the House Republican leadership bill, known as the American Health Care Act, “didn’t go far enough” to uproot and replace the 2010 law.
He said, “We need to make sure that people get good adequate health care that’s not necessarily tied to their insurance, that’s not mandated, that’s not taxed” and not necessarily connected to their employer.
He said his general goals were “free choice” and the ability of people to keep seeing the doctor they wanted, but he did not provide details on how he would propose to reach those goals.
In February 2016, prior to the Kansas presidential caucuses, Estes endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for the Republican nomination. According to The Wichita Eagle, Estes cited Rubio’s “passion for reining in the rising cost of higher education” and his “desire to modernize an education system that has left far too many students unable to start their adult lives on solid financial footing."
Estes was a Republican elector in the 2016 presidential election, thus he was one of the 304 electoral votes that Donald Trump won. Trump carried Kanas with 57 percent of the vote.
In an interview with the conservative Family Research Council’s radio program Washington Watch on Dec. 19, the day electors cast their votes in each of the state capitals, Estes said he’d received over 153,000 emails about the election urging him to vote for Hillary Clinton because she won the popular vote, or making the claim that Trump was unfit for the office of president. “More noise and more hype than substance,” commented Estes, who cast his vote for Trump.