Buzz blog contributors who cover politics for The Star regularly chat about recent political news from Kansas, Missouri or our nation’s capital.
This week, The Star’s Bryan Lowry and The Wichita Eagle’s Jonathan Shorman recorded a conversation they had in the car during their ride home from Palco, Kan., following U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran’s Thursday town hall. That conversation has been edited for flow.
Bryan: So that was interesting, huh?
Jon: It was. You don’t see something like that all the time in Kansas. What kind of event would this have been if, say, Moran had not announced his opposition to the Senate health bill last week?
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Bryan: He announced his opposition and then he announced the town hall a week or so in advance, which gave people a lot of opportunity to get organized. And that’s why you saw people travel from the Kansas City-area, but I was more struck by how many people were there from the local community.
As you had mentioned to me on our way up here, this is a bit of a homecoming for him.
Jon: Yeah, he grew up in Plainville, which is a bit east of Palco—
Bryan: Where you just patronized their Dairy Queen.
Jon: Yeah, we did just go through the Dairy Queen. Great Blizzards as always.
He grew up in Plainville. He spent a number of years in Hays, which is also close by. And so yeah, I was struck by how he seemed to have a familiarity with a number of people in the crowd. On a first name basis with several of them. His daughter’s pediatrician spoke!
But at the same time, a number of the questions were still pointed.
Bryan: He still faced hardball questions and they were coming from people that he’s known for decades. I mean, I think it shows the unpopularity of this bill and more than anything that gives me the insight as to why Jerry Moran came out as a no.
One thing that you have to say about Jerry Moran is that Jerry Moran knows his communities. He goes to all 105 counties every two years, he holds a lot of town halls. He’s plugged in and so I think he had a sense that this bill was just unpopular with his neighbors.
Jon: It was certainly interesting as Kansas-based reporters to be at this event with a number of national outlets. I’ll be interested to read their stories and check out the national coverage.
Even a Dutch TV crew was running around. Lots of focus, lots of attention suddenly focused on this one small place. I think you talked to someone who might’ve mentioned that this was the most attention Palco’s ever seen.
Bryan: Yeah, I talked to the former mayor, Don Steeples. He was trying to think of other times that Palco received attention and one of his examples was when a bike race passed through Palco. Not really quite the same as the New York Times and Washington Post coming through your community for the day.
Interestingly, at the event I ended up meeting Dan Steeples, who is the cousin of Don and was the also college roommate of Jerry Moran. To me, that speaks about what a small world it really is once you get out here.
You grew up in McPherson, Kan., which I know is bigger than Palco, but how much does this community compare to the area where you grew up?
Jon: McPherson and Palco are both small towns but there is a big difference between a town of 300 and a town of 15,000.
In both places, I always get the sense that people are interested in pragmatism. They just don’t generally seem as interested in ideological fights as much as getting things done.
Bryan: People keep passing me. I’m obviously driving too slowly.
Jon: You really are.
Bryan: We should address, well, controversy is the wrong word—
Jon: Should we address the elephant in the room?
Bryan: The elephant in the room, yeah. The Kansas Republican Party is complaining you had protesters bussed in – they didn’t really protest though — and you talked to a former lawmaker who didn’t really think that was representative of Palco’s values. Do you think that was a representative town hall?
Jon: There’s no way to say for sure as someone who was visiting Palco for the first time, but during the event you could sense a bit of separation from people who were from Palco and the larger western Kansas area and those individuals, activists, lobbyists from other parts of the state or who are professionally involved in politics in some way.
Bryan: But even a lot of the people who were from western Kansas were really strongly against that bill.
Jon: Yeah, we didn’t have anybody stand up and endorse the Senate bill. No matter who you talked to it didn’t seem like anyone was super-satisfied with the direction that things are going.
Bryan: One last thing that I do have to ask about is the fried chicken. On our way out to Palco, we did stop in Dwight Eisenhower’s boyhood home of Abilene and went to the Brookville Hotel, which has been serving chicken since 1870.
Jon: I think I tweeted something to the effect that it was the best chicken of my life and as best as I can remember it was the best chicken of my life. And I got a like on Twitter from Sen. Pat Roberts.
Bryan: The chicken has been endorsed by Pat Roberts?
Jon: I think all Kansans should be able to come together in appreciation of great chicken.