PITTSBURG — Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS 1st District), who represents more than half of all Kansas counties in the northern and western part of the state in Congress, visited Pittsburg Wednesday for a business roundtable discussion at Block22.
“If you were dealing out a hand of cards, I don’t know that there’s another community that I would take over what Pittsburg has going on and the potential of what you have here,” Marshall said. “And I have not said that to any other community, I don’t go around saying that.”
Marshall, who is considering a run for U.S. Senate and is near the end of a tour of all 105 counties in the state, heard questions, comments and concerns from a wide range of community stakeholders.
Pittsburg City Manager Daron Hall said that infrastructure was an important priority.
“Basically infrastructure starts at the federal government,” he said. “Anything we can get passed on down to the state and the locals is a big deal.”
Asked by Marshall what the city’s top infrastructure priorities were, Hall said they included expanding Highway 69, making improvements to Pittsburg’s wastewater treatment plant, and making Pittsburg a more walkable community.
Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce President Blake Benson also said transportation and infrastructure were important.
“From an economic development standpoint, we have all the elements of a growing community, and fortunately we are growing,” Benson said. “We have a great university, we have a skilled workforce, the City of Pittsburg is adding housing. That four lane access is the missing piece, because when we get those inquiries from companies that are looking to relocate, that’s one of the first questions they ask, and for too long we’ve had to say no.”
Although federal assistance could be helpful to complete the expansion of Highway 69, Benson said, Pittsburg is nonetheless emerging as a hub for all of Southeast Kansas.
“It is the hub,” Marshall said. “There’s no one in second place right now.”
Aside from infrastructure, Hall said partisanship in Washington is a concern.
“I would just think as an apolitical city manager, we have to find a way to work with the other party,” he said. “Bipartisanship is just critical.”
Several others attending the event also brought up issues of partisanship and gridlock in Washington.
“The hyper-partisanship is harmful to America, and we have got to figure out the solutions,” said Pittsburg State University President Steve Scott. Americans “are in the middle ground, they’re in the gray area, they’re not at the edges, and the sooner we figure that out, the better off I think we’ll be,” Scott said. “So that’s standing in the way of a lot of the solutions.”
Pittsburg Mayor Patrick O’Bryan brought up related concerns.
“I think all of the issues that we are facing revolve right around Washington, D.C.,” O’Bryan said. “The inability for the parties to work together is stymieing everything, and I think if you get that addressed then the rest of the things fall into place. But until you can become civil and work with each other for the good of the country, I think until that happens we’re stymied.”
Tim Dawsey, executive director of PSU’s Kansas Polymer Research Center, had similar comments.
“Kind of echoing some of what’s already been said, the art of compromise seems to have been lost, so that is a big, huge concern for me is that any way you want to put it, you know, the two sides have got to get together, the biases have to be put aside,” Dawsey said. “Both sides have arguments.”
After hearing from those attending the business roundtable, Marshall addressed the issue of partisanship in Washington.
“What my life is like in Congress is nothing like what you see on TV,” he said. “One of the very first things that our class did — I went to Congress three years ago, we organized our class, we went to Mount Vernon and we took a pledge of civility. Well, why Mount Vernon? President Washington, next to his bed is a desk with a book he always had with him, a book on civility, and President Washington thought that was so important. And we all took a pledge, everyone that went there, that we would not go on national TV, we would not go on the House floor, and attack each other personally,” Marshall said, adding that despite this pledge against personal attacks, he may still disagree with other members of Congress on policy.
Marshall also discussed his reasons in general for potentially running for Senate. As Marshall continued to consider whether he will run for Senate on Wednesday, Kansas State Treasurer Jake LaTurner announced he is dropping out of that race and instead will run for the Second Congressional District seat currently occupied by GOP Rep. Steve Watkins.
“I’ve lived the American dream,” Marshall said. “Fifth generation farm kid, first person from my family to go to college and through medical school. For 25 years I’ve delivered a baby every day on average, I mean that was my boyhood dream was to become a doctor and to go back and be a rural physician where I was really needed, so you know, I get this concept of an American dream. And as we’re contemplating a run for senate and you ask me why — why would I want to do that? I simply just want to leave it better than I found it.”