U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, the Republican serving the 2nd District in Congress, shared his five-point crisis list and responded to constituent concerns during a town hall forum in Ottawa. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
OTTAWA — U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner is convinced the United States faces crisis on five fronts tied to the economy, energy independence, border security, cyber attacks and cultural erosion.
The list offered by the freshman GOP congressman at a town hall Thursday in the Ottawa Public Library didn’t highlight the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 600,000 in this country. About 11% of Kansans have been infected by the virus and more than 5,100 of them have perished since March 2020.
The medical scourge didn’t make LaTurner’s top five despite evidence the Delta mutation surging in states such as Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska posed a threat to people who decline to be fully vaccinated.
“I said during the campaign that people should follow the CDC guidelines,” LaTurner said. “I’ve said now that I don’t believe in federal mandates of the vaccines, or state mandate. I think that’s a bad idea. But people should get vaccinated.”
He said available vaccines were good medicine for the recipient of shots and useful from a public health perspective. The science is clear vaccination is a prudent step for “you and your neighbor.” However, he said, mandating vaccinations would be a major infringement of personal freedom.
Unemployment, the border
LaTurner, the former state treasurer and state senator elected to the U.S. House in November, said he was most vexed about problems with the economy, energy, border, national security and cultural issues. The proper approach to those topics necessitates better balance in the federal government starting with the GOP’s return to majority control of the U.S. House, he said.
“We need to recognize what the problems are and what’s going on right now in our country, but it’s not enough just to do that. We have to have positive solutions to bring to the American people to earn your support. It’s critical that Republicans win back the House in 2022,” he said.
He said enhanced federal unemployment benefits linked to the pandemic was distorting the labor market and caused hiring problems for businesses. Too many people in the 2nd Congressional District are willing to draw down jobless assistance rather than return to work, he said.
International agreements related to climate change or green energy bind U.S. industry to reductions in pollution while giving China and India a “free pass,” he said.
LaTurner, who is on the House Homeland Security Committee, said cartels in Mexico were heavily engaged in drug and human trafficking. The United States needs to build the physical wall sought by President Donald Trump, he said, because “where the wall exists, it works.” The U.S. also needs more immigration judges and border patrol agents, he said.
“The situation that we have right now is dangerous. It’s putting small, unaccompanied minors in harrowing circumstances,” the congressman said.
The United States is slipping in terms of global influence, technology, space exploration and college production of science and technology graduates compared to China, he said. Cyber security problems related to Russia requires the U.S. government to unify its fractured agency-by-agency response and serve as a backstop for private businesses subjected to ransomware attacks, he said.
“I know so many businesses across the state that have dealt with ransomware. If you don’t pay, you’re prevented from earning a living,” LaTurner said.
He said American culture was under attack and critical race theory was a grave obstacle because adherents argue legal institutions of the United States were inherently racist.
The U.S. Department of Education should be blocked by federal law from issuing grants related to critical race theory, LaTurner said.
“The federal government can’t solve our problems, but we need to stop hurting the problems,” he said.
LaTurner’s vote against affirming results of the November presidential election was both lauded and denounced by people at the town hall. He said his vote Jan. 6 was a protest against actions by state officials who unilaterally changed election laws during the pandemic.
“You never heard me say anything inciting a riot,” he said. “What I’ve also said is Joe Biden is the president. He was sworn in on inauguration day. I attended the inauguration. What I did on Jan. 6 was absolutely appropriate.”
Several members of the crowd expressed disappointment members of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate weren’t more effective in crossing partisan lines to move important legislation.
“When are we going to start working for the people again?” said Ianne Dickinson, a Franklin County commissioner.
The forum went sideways a couple times as political rivals talked over each other. LaTurner filled the role of peacemaker by recommending the ideological combatants to simmer down.
“I thank you, again, for coming,” LaTurner said. “I appreciate it. Those of you that disagree with me, I appreciate you being here and voicing your opinion. I’m happy to hear them. Please come back. I think this is really important.”
LaTurner is seeking re-election to Congress. So far, he’s attracted a Democratic candidate, Patrick Schmidt, a Topeka resident who served in the U.S. Navy as an intelligence officer.
“I’m worried about our country and our state,” Schmidt said. “Instead of investing in our future and rebuilding our economy, we are divided by partisan bickering.”
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