It was an intimate setting for U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran late Friday afternoon as he met with a handful of local officials and business leaders at the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce office. Kansas’s Republican senior senator made a special invitation-only stop here to take the community’s temperature on issues such as the labor shortage, infrastructure, rural health care and other hot-button topics.
“Great Bend is one of those places that has found a way to have a future,” Moran said. However, federal government spending and policies that seem anti-small business could hinder that growth.
As for the myriad issues, “it’s vital for me to hear how they affect people,” he said.
He likes coming back to rural Kansas because it helps ground him and lets him remember who and what are important.
Among those attending along with Chamber President Megan Barfield and Moran were: Tyler York, Moran’s district representative; Pete Wesner, chamber Board of Directors chairman and executive with CUNA Mutual Retirement Solutions; Mark Chalfant with Fuller Industries; Richard, Aaron and Melissa Baldwin, South Bend Industrial Hemp; Lauren Clary with Kansas Gas Service; Mike Johnson, M&M Equipment and Barton Community College trustee; Tory Arnberger, 112th District Kansas representative; Craig Vink of Office Products Inc.; and John Worden, University of Kansas Health System.
These leaders, to a person, told a similar tale. They all were worried about finding people to work and keeping their doors open.
“There is an impression right now that government wants to eliminate small businesses,” Vink said.
“It saddens me to hear you can’t find workers,” Moran said. Issues like raising the minimum wage and COVID-19 extensions to unemployment only exacerbate this problem.
COVID and related stimulus payments have lasted too long and cost too much, he said. “We’re too slow turning off the spigot on spending for COVID.”
As for infrastructure, Moran favors a small, more targeted program that focuses on roads and bridges. But, talking about proposals to spend over $3 trillion, he said, “We can’t afford more spending.”
Other topics discussed ranged from supply chain woes and the need to reduce the nation’s reliance on China, the inheritance of family farms, the pandemic’s impact on rural health care, environmental polices that hurt rural Kansas, and the declining population of rural America. He lamented the efforts of President Joe Biden’s administration and other Democrats, and called for more common sense, bipartisan cooperation.
“People are very concerned about the state of the country,” Moran said. “I want a Congress that works.”
Rural Kansans get that it is not about political labels. “Great Bend understands the need to get along,” he said.
How it came together
“The purpose of the meeting was to build our relationship with our elected officials and connect local businesses with the senator to share concerns and discuss topics of interest,” said Chamber President Megan Barfield of Friday’s event. “We wanted to create an opportunity for voicing concerns and sharing what we see here in central Kansas.”
He had requested the small gathering because “he was interested in having a very productive meeting,” Barfield said. “The senator, as well as the chamber, was interested in bringing a group of business leaders and elected officials together in a small setting that could really foster good conversation and relationship building. As the leading voice for the business community, meetings like this are just one example of why we have the strong membership base we do.”
Madison, Wis.-based CUNA Mutual Group recently held a political action committee event for Moran. At that event, the connection was made that the firm has a location in Great Bend, where Wesner is the chamber Board chairman.
“That conversation led to the opportunity for the chamber to host Sen. Moran here in Great Bend. We are pleased to welcome the senator and have this opportunity,” Barfield said. “We have always had a really great relationship with Sen. Jerry Moran and his staff.”