Brownback weighs in on issues at town hall meeting

Senator supports term limits, Boeing project

Staff reporter

U.S. Senator Sam Brownback visited Marion County Monday afternoon as part of his 105 Kansas counties tour.

The tour began March 17 and Brownback has been visiting three communities per day several days a week since then, stopping in each Kansas county.

The former U.S. presidential candidate was relaxed and personable to a crowd of about 40 people at Marion City Auditorium.

Brownback expressed concerns about the economy, energy alternatives, and addressed concerns of constituents in attendance.

"We're experiencing a soft economy right now," Brownback said. With the declining value of the dollar, prices increase as the dollar falls.

However, unemployment rates have held well in Kansas, he said.

Brownback said the price of ethanol has not caused fuel prices to increase. In fact, he believes that gas prices would be higher without ethanol.

He continued that one of the best ethanol plant designers is from Colwich and he's talking about making ethanol from cellulose for $1 to $1.20 per gallon.

Balancing energy, environment, and economy is necessary in the future development of fuel.

The state could re-engage nuclear power, develop coal plants, and harness wind energy.

"We need to balance it," Brownback said.

In the future, the energy equation is going to look different and Kansas has a "great spot at the table," he said.

In the coming years, Brownback said there will be more electric cars.

"Half of the country doesn't drive more than 20 miles per day. If you could get the first 20 miles off of electricity, it could drastically reduce gasoline consumption," he said.

Another future source of energy, Brownback said, was hydrogen.

"The first hydrogen cell locomotive is being made in Topeka. Plenty of power in a smaller engine. This is a real chance for us, probably the best I've seen in a long time for us to grow as a state," he said, but cautioned the state needed to be sensible about it.

Later in the town hall meeting, Marion City Administrator David Mayfield commented that if a holiday gas tax is implemented, as promoted by presidential candidates Senator John McCain and Senator Hilary Clinton, it will affect smaller communities like Marion who depend on those funds to pay for highway projects.

Currently a tax-funded program, KLINK, is administered by Kansas Department of Transportation which pays for Marion's Main Street which also is a state highway, K-256.

"I don't think it's going to go anywhere because of those issues," Brownback said. "Gas consumption is flat and going down because of prices. As gas consumption goes down, so does gas taxes."

Brownback continued that the tax relief is a "bit of a gimmick" and won't solve problems.

"People are overtaxed. Most people are working until the first part of May to pay their taxes," Brownback said.

He then asked the audience if it would be in favor of a holiday gas tax and then those who are not in favor. Overwhelmingly, members of the audience were not in favor of the tax relief.

"This is a mess right now. The price of gas is directly out of everybody's pocket," Brownback said. "The money for the fuel is going to places where people don't like us."

When Brownback went to Beijing in the 1980s, everyone rode bicycles, he said. In the 1990s, he saw more Mopeds. In 2004, he saw more cars.

"More drilling is needed," Brownback said. "Supply has been flat."

Citizens need to become more conservation-minded, he continued.

"People are driving the price up by putting money into commodities," Brownback said.

Marion Reservoir resident Bob Maxwell said he was a firm believer in term limits, like set for the U.S. president. He asked Brownback if he would work for term limits for senators and representatives.

"I'm for term limits," Brownback said. "I took a pledge to only serve two terms which will end in 2010."

He continued that term limits aren't effective if they don't apply to everyone.

Maxwell then commented that lobbyists have taken away the public vote.

"I don't agree with that," Brownback said. "That's why I'm visiting all of the counties I represent. I take the position of going through with what I said I would do when I campaigned.

"Maybe there needs to be changes in the lobbyist system. There's a saying that there's nothing as permanent as a temporary program."

Brownback said he would like to see Congress be given the option of eliminating programs instead of keeping and adding to them.

"I want to declare war on cancer," he said. "Within 10 years I don't want any deaths caused by cancer."

Tampa mayor Jim Clemmer commented that less than 12,000 Kansans showed up to decide on the next president and there will be 800 people who will decide who is going to be the final presidential candidates.

"When I was a contender, it was a smaller caucus in Iowa. A lot of candidates entered Iowa but few left as winners with 80,000 Iowans narrowing the field for 300 million Americans," Brownback said. "In Iowa it's a very personal race."

Hillsboro resident Grant Overstake asked the Senator what it was like to try and get his agenda on the evening news.

Brownback responded that journalism has become somewhat like the era of the Civil War with specific newspapers putting candidates through a difficult test.

"I could get on Fox News but couldn't get on ABC, NBC, or CBS unless it was bad. The people who were watching me generally were watching Fox," he said. Brownback continued that radio generally was more conservative and television was more liberal.

"It used to be that if you didn't get on the evening news, you didn't exist. Eighty percent of the country used to get their news there."

Now, Brownback said, the majority of Americans get their information from talk show hosts, for entertainment value.

"It's a very different world," he said.

"I ran my campaign on very little money. Mike Huckabee ran on our side with about the same amount of money as I had but was effective in running on very little money," Brownback said.

Marion Economic Development Director Jami Williams asked if the Senator could support the expansion of Marion Reservoir with additional campsites. Brownback suggested she contact his office and have the request added to his list.

Jerry Dieter of Marion asked Brownback his position regarding the Boeing tanker project.

"I was with the President Sunday when we were going to Greensburg. I pointed out to him that in about 60 days he probably will have a favorable decision against Air Bus for $4.5 billion, the biggest trade case in world history that has to do with the air frame. We're fighting it every way we can. I think we have some shots at this but it's going to be difficult," Brownback said.

There are two things the U.S. shouldn't be dependent on from other governments, Brownback said, food and defense.

"This is a classic example of that. If we go with the lowest bids, we're going to be having our ships built in Brazil and other countries," he said.

As Brownback wrapped up his 45-minute visit, he asked the audience what was the most complex thing known to mankind in the entire cosmos. He gave the clue that it weighed 3 1/2 pounds.

The answer? The human brain.

"There are 35,000 genes coded with DNA with half being expressed in the brain. There are 100 billion nerve cells in the brain, each with about 10,000 wires or extensions. Brain neurons vastly exceed the stars in the universe.

"It is a phenomenal miracle. We're studying the brain more and finding that people are learning. What you learn first is the last out (forgotten)."

Brownback continued that people are influenced by what they see on television and in movies. More violence and sexually explicit viewing will result in similar behavior.

"Right now we can do MRIs on the brain to see how the brain reacts to certain material and how it effects children.

"This is the most powerful nation in the world. Pray for us and keep the suggestions rolling."

With that, Brownback and his aide exited the auditorium and headed to McPherson for another town hall meeting.