Nearly 100 people attended Sen. Jerry Moran’s town hall stop Wednesday at the Clarion Inn in Garden City, where healthcare and education were two of the main topics.
Zach Worf, a former Democratic state senate candidate from Holcomb, asked Moran if he would support universal healthcare, referencing President Donald Trump’s comment during the campaign about a single-tiered health care system. He also asked if Moran believed that every American deserves health care — not as in access, but as a right.
“I believe that rights are things that are guaranteed to a citizen by the Constitution, so it would be very difficult for me to say that every American has a right,” Moran said, adding that the U.S. gives the opportunity to access health care. “What we have is the responsibility to try and make things work better for more people.”
“Not all people, just more?” Worf asked.
“Well, for everybody,” Moran said.
That prompted Worf to say, “That would be universal healthcare.”
Moran said that by universal healthcare, he would mean wanting every American to have access to healthcare. He said he’s willing to find ways to increase the number of people who have access to healthcare but doesn’t believe it’s guaranteed by the federal government.
Moran also said that at town hall meetings he’s attended, he’s heard from people both for and against the Affordable Care Act. He said he advocates for more investment in community health care centers and trying to keep people out of emergency rooms, which he sees as an expensive way to provide care.
Moran said veterans need more access to health care, noting that his staff has spent more time on veteran issues than anything else. He said he has made it a point to try to figure out how to make the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care system, which he referred to as a “bureaucratic mess,” work.
Moran said he has heard mixed reviews from veterans about the VA. Travel distance is one of the issues veterans have mentioned about accessing VA hospitals.
Moran said some veterans living in rural areas have to travel long distances in order to access outpatient care services. One of the ways Moran wants to improve veterans’ access to health care is bringing care to the veterans, which he said could happen with the opening of more outpatient clinics and adding them to already existing medical facilities.
Switching to education, Jean Clifford, USD 457 Board of Education president, asked Moran about what changes are coming to K-12 education under the Trump administration.
Moran said he does not know what the administration’s plan for education is regarding vouchers, which would involve moving money out of public education and into private and charter schools, something that has been advocated for in the past by Secretary of Education Betsy Devos. However, Moran said, it is an issue for Congress and not the administration.
“Whether a person wants to use public, private or charter schools, it’s not up to Washington D.C., the president, or secretary of education to make that decision, but up to Kansans to make,” Moran said. “When I talk about Kansas, mostly I mean local folks here on the Board of Education who decide what’s best for your community, not somebody in Washington D.C. making a decision. ...”
Moran doesn’t believe Congress will agree with putting public money into charter or private schools.
“My personal view is I want Washington D.C. less involved in education, not more, in order to get rid of mandates that drive up the costs,” he said. “I think we’re going to have similar education funding to what we’ve had.”
Garden City resident Levi Burnfin questioned how Moran could say he wants to fully fund public education while also voting to confirm DeVos, who previously said she would like to make cuts to public education and transfer money to charter schools.
Moran, who did not hesitate to say he thought DeVos was “terrible” in her Congressional confirmation hearings, said he reconciled the two after meeting DeVos in his office before the confirmation vote and asking if she would support federally mandating vouchers for schools in Kansas or would leave that decision to the people in Kansas.
“Her answer was, ‘I don’t believe in federal mandates. I wouldn’t support vouchers being forced on anybody,’” Moran recalled. “I like that answer.”
He said he also questioned DeVos about whether rural schools or schools that do not want to be federally mandated would be affected.
“Her answer to that was, ‘I will not support mandated changes to schools in Kansas for schools that don’t want to change or the public does not want to change,’” Moran said, adding that he wants everyone to have access to public education wherever they live in Kansas.
Moran said he would not support funding cuts to IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which was a subject of contention for DeVos and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine during the confirmation hearings.
Regarding agriculture, Moran said he has visited both Clark and Comanche counties in the last two weeks. The two counties suffered from massive wildfires last month that burned the already barren land, killed hundreds of cattle and destroyed homes.
“Beyond that disaster, our farmers are facing significant challenges,” Moran said, due to low commodity prices and poor state and national economies.
Moran believes the Trump administration will help farmers by curtailing regulations, but is concerned about the administration’s stance on international trade, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“This is a state that depends upon exports. What we produce here is sold around the world,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of the mouths to feed are outside of the United States, and while I’m happy there’s going to be a conversation about NAFTA, we need to maintain an opportunity for Kansas agriculture to export to Mexico and Canada.”
Moran also expressed concern about the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a trade agreement between Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Australia, Brunei, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and the United States. The U.S. withdrew from the TPP in January.
“If we’re walking away from that, we better be negotiating with those countries, trying to make sure that we don’t miss out on those markets,” Moran said. “It’s not just agriculture. In Wichita, the topic of conversation would easily be aircraft and the number of aircraft we sell around the globe. Exports matter to us.”
Moran also sought to reassure southwest Kansans that he understands their concerns about transportation, and despite Trump’s budget recommendation to cut Amtrak and Essential Air Service, Congress intends to do what it can to maintain funding.
After the meeting, when asked about his views on Trump’s executive orders on immigration, Moran said the U.S. needs to have an immigration system in place that allows people who want to come to the U.S. to do so legally.
“Our immigration system is broken. We spend a lot of time trying to get people through the process, and it’s a bureaucracy that doesn’t work,” he said. “We need to figure out how many people we can assimilate in the United States, what kind of attributes they ought to have, check out their health, and based upon that number, figure out an immigration system that allows them to arrive here within a matter of months, not a matter of years or decades.”
Contact Josh Harbour at firstname.lastname@example.org