COLUMBUS — Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS 1st District) visited Southeast Kansas last week and hosted a business roundtable discussion event in Pittsburg. The previous day, however, Marshall also visited Cherokee County, where we caught up with him at Los Luna’s Mexican Restaurant in Columbus as he neared the end of a statewide tour with the aim of deciding whether to run for Senate.

“We’re getting incredible feedback,” Marshall said. “I think that Kansas is longing for a leader. They’re longing for a Bob Dole pragmatic Kansan. So we’re getting phenomenal feedback. The crowds that we’ve seen at our events are two to three times bigger than they were a couple years ago, so it’s looking very, very favorable.”

Marshall, whose district in the northern and western part of the state — “The Big First” — includes a majority of Kansas counties, said last Tuesday he was still considering whether to run for Senate in a bid to replace retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). He has since officially entered the race with an announcement of his candidacy Saturday at the Kansas State Fair.

“I represent 63 counties already, and as I’ve made this big tour what I’ve learned is whether you’re in Columbia, Kansas, or Chanute, Kansas, or Atwood, Kansas, that the challenges of rural America are very much the same, that everywhere I go, the people’s concerns are, you know, the price of wheat or the price of cattle. It’s the cost of healthcare. It’s a lack of people for the jobs that we have,” Marshall said during his stop in Columbus last week. “Beyond that, Kansans mostly want to be left alone. We want a good job that can feed our family. We want safety and security as well. But for the most part we’d like the federal government just to leave us alone.”

Marshall noted that he sits on the House Agriculture Committee, and that agriculture is a major part of the state’s economy.

“Wherever you are in Kansas, probably at least 40 percent of the economy is driven by agriculture,” he said. “So whether we’re writing a farm bill or we’re working on trade issues, those are real important to Southeast Kansas.”

In Southeast Kansas, Marshall said, manufacturing is also important, and trade and tariff issues can have an impact on that sector as well. Marshall said increasing trade is an area where he can get things done, that he supports the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), and getting it ratified is a top priority.

“My biggest legislative priority right now is getting the USMCA, the NAFTA 2.0 agreement done,” he said. “So nothing would mean more to Kansas agriculture right now than to get that agreement done. I helped the president negotiate that with Mexico and Canada. The agreement has been sitting on Nancy Pelosi’s desk since February, but she refuses to bring it to the House floor. We have the votes to pass it, but she refuses to give the president a victory. So she’s holding the entire country hostage, she’s holding thousands of jobs in Kansas hostage, she’s holding hundreds of millions of dollars in exports from Kansas hostage right now, just so President Trump doesn’t get a victory.”

Marshall is supportive of President Trump, he said.

“I think that number one is that our priority is to stand beside President Trump and support his policies,” Marshall said. “I think that his policies have moved this country in a much better direction. Our national economy is much stronger, our safety and security much better as well. So we’ll be standing beside the president and supporting his policies.”

Marshall also talked about issues including immigration and healthcare.

“As far as the lack of people for the jobs that we have, we certainly need to secure our southern border,” he said, “but we also need to fix a very broken immigration process.”

The day after Marshall visited Columbus, and the same day he hosted his business roundtable discussion in Pittsburg, Gov. Laura Kelly announced she was signing an executive order creating a new Governor’s Council on Medicaid Expansion, whose members include State Rep. Monica Murnan (D-Pittsburg). Marshall also commented on Medicaid, although his position on the issue is much different than Murnan’s or the governor’s.

“The Republican Party has asked me to rewrite the legislation that would replace Obamacare, so I’m working with the president, with the White House, for legislation that would provide quality healthcare but drive the price down as well,” said Marshall, who in addition to being a congressman is also a physician.

“When I was at the Oval Office and discussed healthcare with the president, what I shared with him is number one is we want to take care of people with pre-existing conditions, that we need a plan that embraces people with pre-existing conditions and unfortunately Medicaid does not. Less than half of physicians accept Medicaid, so it’s very difficult — just because a person has Medicaid doesn’t mean they have healthcare. Every time a Medicaid patient walks into a hospital, the hospital loses money on that patient, the physician loses money on that patient, so I don’t think that Medicaid expansion is an answer,” Marshall said.

“I think it actually is throwing good money after bad money. It would cost Kansans millions of dollars, it would cost the federal government hundreds of millions, probably billions of dollars, but it’s not truly access to care. So what I believe is if we help move people from welfare to work they’d have meaningful healthcare.”

Although as a federal-level representative of Kansas in Congress, Marshall will not have a vote on any bill in the Kansas Legislature to expand Medicaid in the state, he reiterated his opposition to Gov. Kelly’s goal of doing so.

“I think Medicaid expansion would be horrible for Kansans,” Marshall said. “I think it would increase our taxes and not provide meaningful care. The solutions are to give patients more choices through increased competition, and Medicaid is not access to healthcare.”

Marshall also said that current economic conditions and low unemployment mean that almost anyone who wants to can find a job.

“If they don’t have a job right now, chances are they either don’t have the skills to do it, they can’t pass a drug test, or they’re choosing not to work,” he said. “So let’s help all those people that can’t pass a drug test, help the people learn the skills that we do need, and our community colleges and technical colleges are a big piece of that.”

In addition to the governor’s announcement of the new Medicaid expansion council, other developments since Marshall’s stop in Columbus may have an impact on his campaign plans. The same day Marshall visited Pittsburg, State Treasurer Jake LaTurner announced he would drop out of the Senate race to challenge Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS 2nd District) for the Republican nomination for his seat, which represents Southeast Kansas in Congress. Former Lt. Governor Tracey Mann, meanwhile, announced Monday he will run for Marshall’s current seat representing Kansas’ First Congressional District.