TOPEKA — Jerry Moran arrived in the political epicenter of U.S. politics a quarter century ago to represent western Kansas in the House before transitioning to the Senate.
Moran, the Republican seeking reelection to another six-year term in November, built a grassroots reputation for annually visiting 69 counties of the 1st District as a representative and all 105 counties in two-year cycles as a senator. He said hundreds of town hall gatherings — a favorite part of the job — kept him grounded in terms of understanding constituents’ views. Every conversation, he said, was a learning opportunity.
The senator said he was aware Washington, D.C., changed people for the worse as the power of partisanship overwhelmed good ideas and the roots of win-at-all-cost campaigns expanded their reach. During his career, he said, social media platforms opened floodgates of demeaning attacks on political figures and built echo chambers where folks quit associating with people they disagreed with.
“I hope that my character, my respect for other people, my belief system, the way that my parents raised me is one of the things I hope has not changed,” Moran said in a Kansas Reflector podcast. “One of the reasons I do those town hall meetings … is Washington, D.C., can change you in ways I don’t want to change, even just on a personal basis.”
Moran, who has served under five presidents, said some in Congress were drawn to purely political elements of the job. Love for partisan combat consumed people in Washington and undermined noble ideas of public service, he said.
“I’m not a fan of politics,” Moran said. “It’s not always about winning and losing. Although if you don’t win, you can’t promote your ideas. You can’t pursue your goals for your constituents. But there is a reason to engage in public service that is beyond just the joy of winning an election.”
Moran, 68, of Manhattan, is in a race with Democratic Party nominee Mark Holland, a minister and former mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, as well as Libertarian candidate David Graham of Overland Park.
The GOP senator said he was seeking a third term in the U.S. Senate to protect freedoms and liberties in the U.S. Constitution, to keep the American dream alive and to move the needle in terms of Kansas’ future. He said he was guided by conservative as well as libertarian principles of personal responsibility. He said he believed government closest to the people was more responsive than government from afar.
“I’m very much a Kansan,” Moran said. “I’m interested in trying to make certain that I don’t leave this position until I have a few more things accomplished.”
Issues of the day
Moran said he was proud of legislation signed by President Joe Biden expanding access to health care for 23 medical conditions through the Veteran’s Administration for servicemembers exposed to dangerous chemicals or toxins while deployed overseas. That included troops harmed by Agent Orange while serving in Southeast Asia and those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and were exposed to toxic burn pits.
“For younger veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan, the burn pits have created huge respiratory, cancer kinds of circumstances and they are now covered,” said Moran, who took on a central role of writing the bill.
The senator said the most prominent concern of Kansans on the campaign trail was the struggle to earn enough to pay bills at the gasoline pump and grocery store as inflation undermined purchasing power. A frequent talking point among Republican campaigns in 2022 has been that Biden exacerbated inflation by pouring too much money into the economy in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s my observation that people who claim to care about the poorest among us are people who often promote the policies that are the most damaging to the poorest among us,” Moran said. “One of those things is anything that causes inflation to eat away from a person’s ability to take care of themselves and their family.”
He said Kansans engaged him at campaign appearances in conversations about flow of illegal immigrants across the U.S. border. Those discussions include anxiety about crime, illegal drugs and human trafficking, he said.
In terms of writing a new Farm Bill next year to guide federal agriculture policy, Moran said the greatest source of concern among Kansans were proposals to reduce availability of crop insurance.
“We don’t farm in a place where weather is always our friend,” Moran said. “Crop insurance is the way the risk is managed so a farmer can survive from year to year.”
He said he was committed to federal programs designed to alleviate hunger in the United States and internationally. In addition, he said, Congress should work to extend the life of water resources, including the underground Ogallala aquifer in Kansas.
Voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected in August a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would declare women didn’t have a constitutional right to abortion. Combined with reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court of the Roe v. Wade decision providing a national right to abortion, passage of the Kansas amendment could have led to substantial curtailment of abortion rights in the state.
“Kansans have feelings about this,” said Moran, who contributed financially to the effort to pass the amendment. “Clearly, Kansans are speaking. My view is they ought to be listened to.”
Moran said candidates for the Kansas Legislature and governor were analyzing the abortion vote to determine what was being said by the 165,000-vote majority opposed to the amendment.
He said he preferred abortion rights be the domain of state governments rather than the federal government. The 15-week national ban on abortion proposed by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, had no chance of reaching Biden’s desk or of being signed by the Democratic president, he said.
“There is not at this point in time and not in the foreseeable future that a bill like that could pass the United States Senate,” Moran said.