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SPOTLIGHT
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Lessons learned during 1,000 stops

Published on -12/11/2013, 8:09 AM

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Kansas is a place where the pioneering spirit of its earliest settlers lives on today. In Kansas, we know our neighbors and look after them. We teach our children to be moral and responsible citizens. And we work hard to build a better future so our kids and grandkids can pursue their dreams and reach their goals. This is the reason I became interested in public service, and it is the reason I remain involved today.

As your U.S. senator, I am committed to listening to Kansans and making certain your voices are heard when decisions are made in our nation's capital. Since coming to Congress in 1997, I have made it my top priority to return home each weekend to visit with the folks who sent me to Washington on their behalf. Whether the conversations occur in line at the grocery store, at church or when I'm filling up my truck at the gas station, the input I get from Kansans matters to me and impacts the decisions I make in Washington.

When I was elected to the House of Representatives, I launched the "Big First Listening Tour" and held annual town hall meetings in each of the First District's 69 counties. I have continued this tradition as a senator and have traveled throughout all 105 counties in our State as part of my new "Kansas Listening Tour" to hear directly from Kansans.

Last week, I returned to Marion to hold my 1,000th town hall meeting since being elected to Congress -- the same community I held my first town hall in as a U.S. representative on July 18, 1997.

More than 125 Kansans from Marion and the surrounding communities turned out for conversation, including a high school government class from Marion-Florence High School. It was inspiring to see the next generation interested in learning about our democracy.

The various topics discussed ranged from Obamacare and the nuclear option, to the government shutdown and water conservation. One question was raised by Peggy Blackman, the Marion Reservoir's watershed restoration and protection strategy coordinator. She used the opportunity to visit with me about the importance of solving the Marion Reservoir's blue-green algae problem. It was great to see Peggy again, who was at my very first town hall meeting back in 1997 at the County Courthouse. In addition to water conservation issues, Peggy visited with us about why making her voice heard is important.

"We choose to live rural because we like the slower pace. I'm thankful for the wonderful family life and caring, concerned and compassionate community rural Kansas provides," Peggy said at the 1,000th town hall meeting. "I'm concerned that ... Washington, D.C., doesn't understand our way of life. We're sitting out here, the breadbasket for the country and the world. It takes a greater effort by us to get our point across because we are so few in numbers."

Peggy is right. I've often told people on Capitol Hill that where I come from in rural Kansas economic development can come down to whether or not there's a grocery store in town. Few people in Washington understand how these things can be major issues. It's something they don't have to think about, but in so many of our communities across Kansas, keeping a local economy alive and well is about having a Main Street with a hardware store, grocer and a pharmacy.

The reality is that without a change of direction in Washington, D.C., the future of rural America is in jeopardy. We must address the numerous challenges our country faces, from the increasing costs of Obamacare and government regulation, to out-of-control federal spending and providing certainty to the agricultural community.

Though some things have changed since my first town hall meeting, my efforts in Washington, D.C., remain much the same today as they were when I was first elected -- to see that we have prosperity in the communities we call home. I will continue to fight on behalf of Kansans on Capitol Hill, and truly appreciate the input I get from you during my listening tour stops. Please continue to give me your questions, complaints and marching orders. I will work to make certain policymakers in our nation's capital understand them as well.

Thanks again to the folks who joined me in Marion. I appreciated discussing national policy, but also enjoyed hearing Kansans share their stories of success and achievement. It was an enjoyable event that reinforced my long-held belief in the strength and spirit of our communities and the values that make Kansas a great place to live, work and raise a family. Our state will continue to thrive thanks to the work ethic, concern and kindness of its people.

You can learn more about my upcoming Kansas Listening Tour stops by subscribing to my weekly newsletter at www.moran.senate.gov.

Sen. Jerry Moran is a Republican representing Kansas in the U.S. Senate.

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