Candidate sees no ‘silver bullet’ for growth
Because COVID-19 has limited candidates’ opportunities for town hall meetings and meet-and-greets, the newspaper is interviewing state and federal candidates who avail themselves for in-depth local interviews as a way to help voters be informed.
Population growth isn’t guaranteed, but Republican congressional candidate Tracey Mann sees three assets that point to growth in rural communities.
“In my view there’s not a silver bullet,” he said. “If there was, we would have solved it already. But to me there are some prerequisites to growth. If a community doesn’t have good access to health care, if they don’t have good Internet and a good school, then I think it’s a tougher road.”
A real estate executive and former lieutenant governor, Mann has watched his hometown of Quinter steadily increase in size. When he was growing up there, it had around 800 people. Its population grew to 918 by 2010 and reached 1,021 in 2018.
“When I think about Quinter, we have Gove County Medical Center,” he said. “For the size of Quinter, we have six doctors. It’s kind of a mini regional hub. People come from all over, and while they’re there they spend money on Main St.”
A positive sign for regional health care is the University of Kansas’ branch of its School of Medicine at Salina. Thanks to the satellite location, which had its first round of graduates this year, hospitals in smaller communities stand a better chance at hiring young health care professionals than trying to compete against metro hospitals, Mann said.
“To have now 32 students who are trained to be doctors in downtown Salina, there’s just a much higher likelihood they will go to Hillsboro, Marion, or Quinter than to a large city,” he said. “Of all the things the state is doing right, I’m as excited about that as anything.”
Dependable day care resources also are becoming more important in every community, not just in areas that already have a younger demographic, Mann said.
“If a couple is going to move back to Marion in this day and age, many times husband and wife both need to work,” he said. “If they want to have a family then, we have to be able to solve this day care problem. That is true of a lot of the large, medium, and smaller communities around the district.”
Mann attended Kansas State University, where he was student body president, but said his familiarity with Marion County is thanks to his wife, an alumna of Tabor College.
In Mann’s view, a congressman representing the 1st District, which stretches from here to Colorado, needs to focus on three things. One is serving on the House Agriculture Committee and recognizing the importance of local commodities.
“The bottom line is that when commodity prices are high, the ag community does better,” he said. “People will have more money to spend on Main St. Marion, and all these things. A lot of it in the Big First comes back to ‘what are commodity prices?’
“At the end of the day, the Big First’s economy is driven by agriculture.”
Part of promoting agriculture means understanding the difference between defending every family farm and defending farming itself, Mann said.
“I’m the first guy in my family on either side since we got off the boat 100 years ago to be 43 and not be in production of agriculture,” he said. “It’s in my blood, but I’m not there because of these changing economic dynamics. That’s free-market economics, and that’s the world we live in.
“We need to set the stage for our farmers and ranchers to be able to compete globally with free trade. Our farmers and ranchers here in Marion County and in the Big First can compete with anyone in the world.”
It’s important to realize much of Marion County’s ag production does not stay in Kansas, or even the U.S., Mann said.
Two recent boons for ag prospects are a revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada and renegotiation of trade relations with Japan as the U.S.’s largest destination for beef, Mann said.
“We need to really sit down and figure out who we want our top trading partners to be in two, five years, 10 years,” he said. “We have to build those relationships. It’s not flipping a switch; these are long-term relationships we need to form and be strategic about.”
Mann’s other two priorities are voting and constituent services, or helping district residents deal with government agencies.
“A robust handling of constituent services is incredibly important,” he said. “That’s a big part of the job that gets overlooked.”
Politically, Mann describes himself as a traditional conservative — pro-life, pro-guns, and anti-big government. But in an hour-long interview, a candidate who 10 years ago questioned Barack Obama’s citizenship never raised these issues until asked.