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Bring back the Legislative Coffees
We need more town hall meetings with elected officials
Eric Stafford, vice president of Government Affairs at the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, speaks at “Pints and Politics,” Tuesday, April 16, at Dry Lake Brewing in Great Bend. - photo by Susan Thacker

Last Tuesday’s “Pints and Politics” at Dry Lake Brewing was a success and is worth repeating. It was disappointing, however, to hear Great Bend Chamber of Commerce President Megan Barfield say these have replaced the Legislative Coffees that the chamber used to sponsor. 

She said about 20 people would attend the coffees. My own experience at these coffees was that at least 20 people attended; I would have estimated the usual number around 30. And unlike the event at Dry Lake, the coffees were open to everyone. No one was checking IDs at the door, but Pints & Politics was always promoted as a members-only event.

With the promise of “an afternoon of lively discussions, networking opportunities, and insider insights into the world of politics and business,” the chamber said, “Pints & Politics is not your ordinary political affair; it’s a dynamic ‘happy hour’ where members and their guests can mingle, connect, and exchange insights with fellow business leaders and elected officials from Great Bend, Barton County, Kansas, and the U.S. This exclusive event offers a unique chance to engage directly with decision-makers and influencers from various levels of government. Elected officials invited include a diverse array of representatives from key offices, including the Great Bend City Council, Barton County Commissioners, USD 428 Board of Education, Barton Community College Board of Trustees, Kansas State Legislators, and staff members of our Federal delegation.”

As the event got underway, elected officials and candidates in the crowd were asked to identify themselves. They were Rep. Brett Fairchild, 113th District; Sen. Alicia Straub, 33rd District; Rep. Tory Blew, 114th District, now a candidate for the 33rd District Senate seat; Don Anderson, candidate for 20th Judicial District Judge; and Mike Johnson, chairman of the Barton Community College Board of Trustees. There were a few others who didn’t raise their hands; County Commissioner Shawn Hutchinson and Great Bend USD 428 school board vice president Aaron Emerson were there. 

Adam Stratton and Josh Svaty were also there representing Acciona and they introduced themselves. Svaty is a former state congressman and former secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture. 

Dr. Marcus Garstecki, who has been named the sixth president of Barton Community College, was there as well. He will step into his new role on July 1, following the retirement of Dr. Carl Heilman.

All in all, this was a great opportunity to meet these individuals. There was also a guest speaker, Eric Stafford, vice president of Government Affairs at the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, who discussed the role of lobbying in Kansas politics, emphasizing the importance of advocating for free markets and private sector prosperity. Stafford challenged remarks made by Sen. Straub.

“(She said she was) beholding to constituents, not lobbyists. No matter what any of you in the room do, you’re represented by a lobbyist in Topeka. There’s different lobbyists for everybody. ... It’s our job to educate, and yes, persuade, for or against something. But it’s our job also to be honest and truthful.” 

Legislative coffee

Again, this was a successful event. It shouldn’t be the only event with legislators. There used to be four coffees, scheduled over four weekends during the legislative session. But if there was a snowstorm that forced a cancelation, it wasn’t rescheduled. Every elected official who was present gave a brief recap of the work going on in Topeka and then there was time for a few questions from the audience. But not much time. The whole thing was over in an hour, which is too bad. Pints & Politics was scheduled for two hours.

COVID-19 created a problem. Perhaps the last Legislative Coffee was on a Wednesday morning, April 13, 2022, at the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce Office. But traditionally, the coffees were held on a Saturday morning. This may be less convenient for sponsors or newspaper reporters, but events outside of regular work hours allow more people to attend. The event at Dry Lake was certainly well-attended. Again, Pints & Politics was a great idea. It should not replace the more traditional coffees (plural) or town halls.