PALCO — Area residents were bewildered and some rankled at the numbers of people and media who came from outside the area for Sen. Jerry Moran’s town hall meeting Thursday morning.
Moran’s Rooks County stop on his listening tour attracted more than 100 people to this town of approximately 280, including some who traveled from Salina, Wichita, Lawrence and Kansas City, and media outlets including CNN, Politico, Daily Koz, the Kansas City Star, Wichita Eagle, and Topeka Capital-Journal. There was even a Dutch television crew based in Washington, D.C.
Some area residents, who didn’t want to give their names, wondered why so many people, especially the media, would come to Palco.
Approximately 65 chairs had been set up in the multipurpose room of the McKenna Youth and Activity Center.
“It is unfortunate the tripods took up space that could have chairs in them,” said Conrad Griebel, Stockton, referring to the number of video cameras set up.
The attention was brought about because of Moran's stance on the health-care bill floating around in Washington. (Related story)
Another 35 people had to take seats in the movie theater, where the town hall was streamed, and others spilled into the hallway trying to hear. Some wondered why the meeting hadn’t been moved to the school gymnasium to provide more room.
Several were unhappy the town hall started early, saying they had seen it was scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m., while others had seen a start time of 11 a.m. Moran started speaking about five minutes before 11 a.m.
While the discourse during the 90-minute meeting was mostly civil, not many locals were happy with the outside attention.
“They’re just here to cause trouble, a lot of them, and I really don’t like it,” said Palco resident Pat Kern.
Like many of the people who did ask questions at the town hall, she had wanted to talk to Moran about health care. Her son, she said, has no health care and works at one job in Hill City and other jobs including driving an elderly couple to and from Plainville. But his income is only a few hundred dollars a month. He recently had to have a stent inserted because of a heart issue and is having trouble paying that bill.
The Affordable Care Act, she said, is too expensive for him.
“If they made something that would be halfway decent in price, he would pay it,” she said.
Kern found a seat in the second row in the multi-purpose room, but didn’t get to ask Moran any questions. She said after the town hall she would try to call Moran’s office to get help with her questions.
Travis Couture-Lovelady, a former Republican state representative who grew up in Palco, said not a lot of locals were able to get their questions in.
Several who did ask questions identified as being from Rooks or a surrounding county, but there also were people present from much larger metropolitan cities in the state.
Couture-Lovelady did have praise for Moran for the questions he did answer and for keeping things from getting heated. But he would have like to have heard more questions about issues that affect Rooks County.
“There’s so many things going on with agriculture and energy that I would have liked to hear about from a federal perspective that really affects this area, and we didn’t get any of that, unfortunately. It was dominated by the health-care activists and abortion activists,” he said.
Lucas Roths, treasurer of Students for Life at Fort Hays State University, got shouted down by several in the crowd when his question suggested federal funding paid for abortions. Moran moved on quickly from the question and the shouting.
“It wasn’t anything I wasn’t prepared for,” Roths, from Ransom, said after the town hall.
He said people had a “100-percent full right” to come to the Palco town hall and be heard no matter where they were from. He said he had some good discussions with some of the people who had opposing viewpoints from his.
“It can be very civil if people make it. I just didn’t appreciate the fact the one question about actually trying to protect people that can’t protect themselves was yelled at during the town hall today,” he said.
A small group from Planned Parenthood Great Plains in Kansas City was at the town hall. Elise Higgins, Lawrence, regional director of public policy and organizing for that group, said they focused on Palco in part to speak for their rural clients who are at risk of losing preventive health care under the House and Senate health care proposals.
“That’s especially true for rural women. We get a lot of rural women who come to our Wichita health center because we are specialists in sexual and reproductive health care,” she said.
She noted the closing of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Hays in 2014.
“We know that since we had to close because of Title X defunding, there are women in Hays who just don’t get that kind of health care anymore. We think that’s a travesty, and we don’t want to see that happen to our Medicaid patients, too,” she said.