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 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. She used the opportunity to visit with me about the importance of solving the Marion Reservoir’s blue-green algae problem. 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 St. with a hardware store, grocer, and a pharmacy.
The reality is that without a change of direction, 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.