PALCO, KAN. — About 150 people gathered in the McKenna Youth and Activity Center in Palco for Sen. Jerry Moran’s town hall on the American Health Care Act, the Senate’s proposed healthcare bill, on June 6.
Moran’s current opposition to the proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act stems from the it “[missing] the mark,” according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. He stated at the town hall that certain criteria need to be met in order for him to vote “yes” on the bill — implying he needs changes to the bill that reflect the needs of his constituents.
The size of the crowd was significant considering Palco’s population of approximately 280 people. When the activity center’s multipurpose room reached capacity, the center’s movie theater streamed live video of the town hall for the overflow crowd. The Hays Daily News reported 35 people watched from the theater.
Several attendees came from eastern Kansas to the town hall, which was Moran’s closest to the Manhattan area in the past week. Many of those people represented organizations that are in favor of the Affordable Care Act, like Kayla Clark, junior in political science and town hall attendee.
Clark said in an email interview a Planned Parenthood organizer reached out to her to see if she would like to attend.
“Though all of the flaws in Trumpcare concern me deeply, going with Planned Parenthood emphasized for me the many patients who would not be able to afford reproductive health care under Trumpcare,” Clark said.
The attendance of out-of-town constituents like Clark and several media reporters impacted the locals’ experience at Moran’s town hall.
“Their presence is what got the media’s attention,” Dana Pieper, event attendee and Palco resident, said of the non Rooks County attendees. “I didn’t have a problem with them being there. We all have a right to make our voices heard, but I wish they wouldn’t have made such a spectacle out of it.”
Pieper said the media attention the town hall received was “overblown.”
Travis Couture-Lovelady, former Republican representative of State District 110, which encompasses Palco, said to The Hays Daily News and to The Collegian that he thought many of the local concerns, like agriculture, were not discussed.
“Very few local voices were heard,” Couture-Lovelady said in an email interview. “I hope the next time Senator Moran comes back to Rooks County, the locals can have their questions answered and concerns addressed.”
He noted the general political leaning of the room was different than what was expected of a northwestern Kansas town, saying it was “eye-opening for the locals to see a side of politics they generally only see on TV.”
According to Politico, 84 percent of Rooks County voters cast their ballot for Trump in November 2016.
“Though Palco is a conservative area, Moran represents all of Kansas, so a lot of more liberal people drove out,” Clark said. “Because of this, the room really had a more liberal feel to it in terms of what was applauded and what was booed.”
The climate of the town hall not only differed, but the staging was different than other town hall meetings.
“Pictures and videos of town halls that I’ve seen have been a lot different,” Clark said. “The senator is usually on a stage in a very large area. This space had Moran standing among the audience with no mic, and the room was no bigger than a KSU classroom.”
Moran’s town halls in Sublette, Kansas, and Liberal, Kansas, were hosted in similarly small venues June 7. In Palco, he offered a bipartisan tone to the attendees.
“I’m elected as a Republican,” Moran said. “I am a member of a minority, and that minority is Kansas. That minority is rural. And it doesn’t matter, I need to find allies — whether they are Republicans or Democrats — to work on issues that affect rural America.”