GYPSUM — Sen. Jerry Moran heard from Central Kansans about a variety of local and national topics during a town hall Friday morning in Gypsum.
At 8 a.m. Friday, around 40 people skipped Black Friday shopping and met with Moran during a Listening Tour stop in a packed room in the Gypsum Community Building, 521 Maple St.
Before opening up to the constituents attending, Moran began the conversation by talking about topics he feels impact Kansas and this region.
"I am still about rural America," Moran said. "What motivated me to ask Kansans to give me the chance to represent them is about trying to keep places like our hometowns around a while longer."
Moran talked about agriculture, health care for veterans and those in rural areas, education and small business.
One specific area of health care was important to one woman who was attending. A nurse, Terry Johnson, asked Moran about what she called a mental health crisis the state and the nation was facing.
"I'm using the word 'crisis' minimally," Johnson said.
She said the state has lost many of the resources and hospitals it depended on to help patients, veterans and children are affected and law enforcement and corrections at times are the ones who have to take care of patients.
Moran thanked Johnson for her passion and told her that, as a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, the VA is where he understands the issue the best, but also acknowledged he sees the problem in other areas.
"There's 20 veterans a day who commit suicide, farmer suicide is on the rise ... and youth suicide is rising dramatically," Moran said.
Moran said mental health issues span more than just suicide but it is an issue that he is seeing often.
"It says to me that if suicide is such a common feature in people's lives, something is happening," Moran said. "Mental health, socialization, parental oversight, our society's changes, I don't know what all the features are that change the way we see ourselves and see others."
Bringing the issue back to rural and veteran health care, Moran said one thing he sees a lack of is mental health care providers in small and rural communities.
"The chances of having a psychiatrist in town in Kansas is almost nonexistent," Moran said. "The chances of having a psychologist isn't much better."
Some of the people at the stop were farmers and concerned with agriculture. One issue was how prices for some commodities have not risen in years and how that is hurting farms in Kansas. A man brought up that the price of wheat has stayed the same for 50 years.
"When you correlate that to the amount of wheat in a loaf of bread, it's only a few cents," the man said. "If you double the price of wheat it's not going to effect the price of bread that much."
The man said this type of agriculture crisis is causing farmers to declare bankruptcy at rising rates. Moran said this is an issue he is paying close attention to.
"On-the-farm income is down by half since 2013," Moran said. "To cut someone's income by half in six years, how do you expect it to work?"
Moran told a story of driving down a road in Kensington and seeing milo piled nearly to the top of a grain elevator. He said this shows that there is grain on the ground in Kansas, ready to be sold but can't because of competition with other countries.
He also said it would be beneficial for Congress to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a trade agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, as Canada and Mexico are the biggest markets for Kansas agriculture.
"I'm worried if it doesn't happen that administration will eliminate NAFTA and we'll have nothing," Moran said. "Get USMCA in place so there's certainty, but we also don't have to worry about some other consequence with the elimination of NAFTA."
In addition to local issues, people attending were interested in discussing national issues with the senator.
One area of national discussion included the impeachment inquiry. One person asked if Moran, as a "juror" in a potential impeachment trial, already knew how he would vote in the process or if he would take into account all the facts.
"If impeachment occurs, then the Senate will do its job, I will do my job, come whatever time frame that is," Moran said.
Moran seemed disappointed that the process was happening in the way it was, particularly the timing, with just a year left before the presidential election.
"I wish we could elect a president, and he or she be generally supported by the American people for about the four years of their term," Moran said. "Then, if we don't like what they do, we can un-elect them. We don't have to vote to re-elect them."
He also said it seemed to be divisive and partisan, with many Democrats in the House asking for impeachment before the details of the Ukrainian phone call were known.
"It's a political process I guess and I'm looking for a judicial process," Moran said. "We'll sort out the facts and try to make a good decision."
Another national issued concerned immigration, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, recent changes in immigration policy by the Trump administration and border security.
Alan Jilka, a former Salina mayor, talked about his foster son, who received a deportation order for a misdemeanor marijuana conviction. Jilka said the man has done a lot since coming to the United States, including graduating high school, getting a good-paying job and paying federal and state income taxes.
Jilka asked Moran about Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who has been in the headlines recently for controversial emails that leaked. Jilka said many Democrats are calling for Miller to resign or for Trump to fire him due to the content of the emails, which some consider to be anti-immigration and racist.
"Is it just too much to ask for any Republicans to join (Democrats) is asking for him to be removed?" Jilka said.
Moran said while he knows who Miller is and has heard the stories about him and this particular instance, he has not met Miller.
"This is not somebody who's confirmed by the Senate, so we have no ties to him or no official approval of his performance," Moran said.
Moran said when he read about the emails, he assumed that Miller would be out of the White House, but that has not happened yet.
A call for local unity
Moran ended his time by encouraging people to stay involved at the local level and find common ground with the people they share the community with, because that will help with the division he and others see in the country.
"There are differences," Moran said. "We don't expect everybody to agree, but the process by which we put in place to resolve those differences is where we've got to focus our attention on."
He said rural communities can show how people can work and live together despite their differences.
"My guess is in Gypsum you know who liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, Protestants, Catholics, whatever the division is, you know who in Gypsum is what," Moran said. "It doesn't matter because you go to the same grocery store, end up at the football game on Friday night and if you had a fight in Gypsum among the differences, nothing good would ever happen in Gypsum. You need each other. This country needs each other."