CLAY CENTER — People came from Wichita, Kansas City, Manhattan, Concordia. Some who attended Sen. Jerry Moran’s town hall meeting on Saturday were actually from Clay Center.

More people were standing than sitting in the Tasty Pastry during the Saturday meeting. At one point, an employee had to clear a path so customers could get to the back counter to make purchases.

Several in the audience carried protest signs; some interrupted Moran while he talked, and others applauded.

“It’s not just Kansas. The country has become more divided,” Moran about the large, diverse crowd attending his meetings.

Moran answered questions for an hour inside the Tasty Pastry and spent another 45 minutes talking to constituents outside.

The U.S. House-passed tax reform bill and health care issues were the biggest topics of concern. The farm bill, collecting sales tax on Internet purchases, immigration, education and banking regulations also were addressed by Moran and the crowd.

Moran said his town hall meetings changed when Barack Obama was elected president.

“It created a different set of constituents who came to a town hall meeting to complain about Obamacare (Affordable Care Act),” he said. “Now you have (President Donald) Trump who generates people on the other side of an issue that come to a town hall meeting.

"The country has become more divided for those that oppose President Obama and his policies and now those that oppose President Trump and his policies. And so it’s much harder to have a, 'What’s going on in your community,' 'Farm bill,' 'Tell me what’s happening at the local hospital,' type conversation that traditionally is part of a town hall meeting.”

Issues personal

Moran said Obamacare put health care in the federal domain.

"The things that people used to worry about in Topeka are now more a national issue," Moran said.

“Health care in particular is very personal to people. A lot of people are here because of Obama and Trump, which has an effect. But when it comes to health care, almost without exception, people are here because decisions we make on health care will affect them and their families in a very personal way.

“The conversations aren’t political. There are tears flowing down people’s cheeks.”

Tour continues

Still, Moran said he plans to continue his tour of all 105 counties in Kansas.

“Everybody ought to have their voices heard,” Moran said. “At the end of my time as a public official, I hope that I have done something that reduces the disconnect between those who are elected and the citizens of Kansas. It’s become more difficult than it used to be.”

After large crowds, including protesters carrying signs, showed up at town hall meetings in Palco and Franklin, he almost changed the location of the Clay Center event from the Tasty Pastry, which is downtown.

“The Tasty Pastry has been a place that we have had conversations for as long as I have been an elected official and I represented Clay County as a Congressman. For a long time we have had the Tasty Pastry as our host,” he said. “My fear is that somebody that just wants coffee and a doughnut might not walk in and spend their money."

Drawing crowds

Moran said that at Palco, a town of 277, 150 showed up for the town hall meeting.

“About 100 of those were from outside of Rooks County,” he said.

Moran said he went back a week later to visit with the residents.

“What I discovered was they were delighted we had all those extra people there. The local convenience store sold out of chicken-fried steaks.”