From Earmarker to Tea Partyer: The Ballad of Jerry Moran

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 27 2011 1:46 PM

From Earmarker to Tea Partyer: The Ballad of Jerry Moran

One surprise arrival at the Senate's inaugural Tea Party Caucus meeting was new Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. He moved up from the House this year, after defeating fellow Rep. Todd Tiahrt in a primary where he was backed by Sarah Palin and Moran was backed by Jim DeMint. And Moran had co-founded the House Tea Party caucus. So his arrival, perhaps, shouldn't have been a total shock.

But Moran is in a special category of Tea Party members of Congress. Until last year he regularly requested earmarks. As Reid Wilson reported, Moran requested $19.4 million of earmarks in the last budget, the one covering the 2010 fiscal year.

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When I brought this up to Moran and asked him about how he explained this to Tea Partyers who criticized him over earmarks, he seemed, at first, to be surprised to learn that such criticism existed.

"You think that's me?" said Moran. "I don't know that criticism. I don't know that. I've been involved with Jeff Flake for a long time. We were part of the 30 folks in the House who requested the Republican conference to deal with the earmark issue. I supported the efforts here in the Senate, when I got here, to establish a moratorium on earmarks for the next two years."

After saying that, Moran issued a sort of mea culpa for his earmarking ways -- which had been litigated in that Senate primary, and were a reason he almost lost it.

"I don't deny that in the part there have been earmark requests," said Moran, "but what transpired is this realization that we can't afford spending, and the realization that earmarks are a way that get members of Congress to vote for spending that, again, we can't afford."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.