Posts Tagged ‘Rolla’

A Townhall Meeting with Senator Claire McCaskill

I spent an hour today, March 18th, at a Townhall Meeting hosted by one of my two U.S. Senators, Senator Claire McCaskill.  The meeting was held in the St. Patrick’s Room at the Havener Center at University of Missouri Science and Technology, or MS&T,  to us locals.  Town Hall Meeting

I had written an email to both of my Senators in 2013 and promptly heard back from Senator McCaskill’s office.  I received  a politely written reply to my concern, but the Senator and I  failed to convince one another of the rightness of each other’s views.   Several weeks ago,  I was a bit surprised to receive a personal invitation via email  to attend this Townhall Meeting, so I decided to attend.  I would estimate that there were 100 people in attendance and we had to check in at a registration table.  Since I had rsvp’d, my name was on a check-off list and I quickly entered the room  and found a seat.  A student to my left had his laptop open so he could take notes during the Senator’s talk…probably writing something for the MS&T Student newspaper, I surmised.  A gentleman in front of me was an Army veteran, served his country for 20 years.  Senior Citizens, college-students, and me among the middle aged attendees, along with the Senator and her staffers, we were the population of this Townhall.   Dem. donkey

Rev. Timothy Lee, pastor at First United Methodist Church, opened the Townhall Meeting with prayer.  It was nice to see no one stomping off in anger or objecting to a prayer being said.  Senator McCaskill then asked us all to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which all in the audience did.  Then, Senator McCaskill warmly greeted us all and said she was glad we could attend.  She asked how many of us in the room probably wouldn’t vote for her and a good number raised their hands.  She smiled and said that she was glad those of us who don’t agree with her politically are still willing to attend her Townhalls, which she has been conducting around the state the past few weeks.     Rep. Elephant

She had two charts on the dais behind her, “Energizing America’s Economic Recovery” was emblazoned across the top of one chart.  “Boosting Job and Business Opportunities” was the title of the other chart.  She began by boosting some good news: Missouri’s unemployment level is the lowest its been since 2008, public sector jobs-aka government jobs-have been cut the most and private sector jobs have risen, the deficit was $1.4 trillion in 2012 and now it’s down to $500 billion, still needs to get a lot lower she said.  She announced that she would begin a question and answer session and that when she did her first Townhall a couple years ago, she was accused of taking “planted” questions in the audience.  To combat that critique, we were given a paper to fill out with our contact info and a space to write a question.  These papers were put into a basket and the Senator chose a gentleman in the front row to hand one of her assistants a question and then the Senator would answer them.

Sixteen questions were pulled from the basket before the Senator’s time was up(this Townhall was only set for one hour.)  One question was confidential and the Senator agreed to meet with that gentleman after the meeting was over to discuss his concern.  Four questions were about the Military: What more can be done to help veterans in finding jobs within their skills set that they learned  while serving? How can Missouri keep veterans in Missouri instead of seeing them leave the state for jobs elsewhere? Corruption at Fort Leonard Wood, was the Senator aware of that? PAL’s (Private Army Lodging) has problems and was the Senator aware of that issue?  Since Fort Leonard Wood, a large Army base, is only half an hour away and employs a lot of folks in the Rolla, MO area, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the questions pertaining to Military interests.  There was a question about the unfairness of educational statistics of other countries(who don’t educate all of their children)in comparing those stats to public education in the U.S.   The Senator agreed that organized labor has done great things in this country and she credited it with the rise of the Middle Class.   Why can’t gas prices be lower?  The Senator and I agreed on this issue, as she is in favor of the Keystone Pipeline and wants it to go forward as it will provide jobs and it would  better for our country to benefit from it and we’ll be more careful about the environmental impacts of it than China would be.  I started to raise my hand and then decided not to.  I was going to ask the good Senator then why oh why can’t she convince the President to approve this project?  We hear how he wants to create jobs and energize the economy and when Canada is continually put on hold over this project, when we have this project that will do what the President “claims” he wants, he does nothing!   On January 31, 2014, the State Department even released the results of their study that said the Pipeline wouldn’t harm greenhouse gases and still, nada is happening!  Here is the link to that article from the Washington Post.   Another question about the EPA and the Senator and I found another topic to agree upon.  She stated that some regulations are necessary but that when she gets wind of ridiculous ones, she is quick to pounce on them and has succeeded in getting them dropped.  Two examples of the ridiculous: stricter regulations on the scaffoldings to be used in home construction which would have added higher costs to the prices of new homes for a specific, expensive scaffold that  the EPA insisted construction businesses had to use, and the EPA wanted to punish farmers for putting too much “dust” back into the air when they ran their farm machinary in the fields or drove their trucks down dirt roads.    She urged anyone to contact her about any EPA regulation that we felt was detrimental to the way a business or livelihood was operating.    Libertaririan symbol

Obamacare came up, of course, and she admitted that she is frustrated by it, that the roll out was done horribly.  One gentleman challenged her as to why she voted for it when 60% if Missourians didn’t support it and many still don’t.  That question got a lot of loud applause.  Senator McCaskill didn’t really answer his question and danced around it with some commentary about how when she first ran for the Senate that the number one item she was asked about was from uninsured farmers, and how could they afford health insurance?  From her commentary, I began to wonder if all the farmers in the state are uninsured and if farmers were all she talked to, because I found myself skeptical that that was the number one issue in the state when she was running  for the Senate for the first time.   A lady asked her why has so much of the ACA(Obamacare) mandates been pushed further back from starting, and why were some industries exempted?  Again, the Senator nimbly danced around those questions and really didn’t answer them.Green Party

In closing out this Townhall Meeting, Senator McCaskill stated that,”Local solutions are better  in solving problems than relying on DC.”  She thanked us all for coming, and as she began to talk one on one with constituents who lined up to approach the dais, I thought back to all I had heard.  Senator McCaskill is a skilled speaker.  She is good at eye contact and talking to her audience in a familial way, not as a stranger, not as one too high up in the stratosphere of the political world to speak to citizens.  She pointed out that in the ranking of the 100 U.S. Senators, from liberal to conservative, she is right in the middle, at #50.  As nice as she was, I still don’t see eye-to-eye with her on many issues and find her comment about local issues better solved by local folks, to ring hollow, as she obviously thinks the government forcing Americans to buy a product is the way to “save” healthcare in America.

St. Louis vs. Rolla

Phelps County, Missouri Courthouse, listed on ...

Phelps County, Missouri Courthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Rolla, Missouri. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: A montage of St. Louis

English: A montage of St. Louis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After our family made our move in June of 2011 to Rolla, many friends from St. Louis, or “the Lou” as it is sometimes affectionately called, asked us, “How do you like Rolla?”  That became the million dollar question! If any of our kids were asked, they would probably have groaned and began their list of complaints: there’s no mall, no Fritz’s, the zoo is far away, the Muny is far away, Busch Stadium is far away, there’s no Target, no Michael’s, no Penn Station

To be fair to our kids, being born near a large city, growing up in the suburbs of a large city, there are a lot of amenities in that kind of area and that is all they knew.    It is nice to be able to hop in the car, or take a trip on Metrolink, and go  to a baseball game, hockey game,  or see a show coming in from Broadway at the Fabulous Fox Theatre downtown.  I ,too, missed some of the shopping venues the greater St. Louis area offered and have learned to research  online  where the closest Target or Toys R Us store is, and then have had that internal, and sometimes external, debate:”Is it really worth the gas to make that 2 hour drive just to shop at such and such store?  Do I really need that item?  Is there a similar item at a local store? Can I order it online?”  That is probably the biggest thing I have had to get used to.  I am very glad Rolla did get a Kohl’s store and has a very nice JC Penney’s in town.  Now if a Target could be brought in and a Michael’s store and a Penn Station…hint, hint, City Council members and Mayor!!

The question resonated a bit differently for my husband and I, comparing life in a big city area to life in a town of 19,559.   My husband saw the immediate value of  lower property taxes, less traffic snarls, but would probably admit that the slower pace of life in Rolla did take a bit to get used to.  I would agree with his assessments, and also note that the land is different.   It is  hillier here, with  curvy roads especially on rural drives, stonier soils, lots of clear water running in creeks and springs, occasional black bear sightings.   As we are at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains here, and Arkansas is only a 3 to 3 and a half hour drive away, there is a distinctive twang, a bit of a Southern drawl-like sound to my Northwest Ohio born and raised ears that I catch when some Rolla area folks are talking.   I have also noticed that there is a more of a conservative view on life here when compared to St. Louis and it’s surrounding environs.  North St. Louis County, where we moved from, almost all political offices were and are still held by Democrats, and unions have a heavy influence there.  I would say it’s the exact opposite in Phelps County and Rolla.  If the election for the President had been decided in this town, Mr. Romney would be sitting in the Oval Office, and not President Obama.

St. Louis has many colleges and universities in its midst, all vying for students.  In Rolla, one dominates all of the rest, and is a major employer of the town: Missouri University of Science and Technology, or MS&T.  In 1870 the school was begun, under the title of the University of Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy.     As the school grew in size, expanded it’s degrees, added research and more buildings, it had another name change in 1964 to University of Missouri-Rolla, or UMR.   In January of 2008, the university once again changed it’s name to MS&T, much to the ire of alumni.  My husband works with several alumni and they still refer to their college alma mater as UMR!  Irregardless of the name, it provides an interesting contrast to the rural aspects of Rolla.  Many students are here from other countries and it is fascinating to me when I observe a group of foreign students at a local grocery store or the ubiquitous Wal-Mart, shopping and chatting away in their native tongue.  I wish I could understand their languages when that happens.  What do they think of life in America so far?  The university has a nice theatre, Leach Theatre, and they do a pretty decent job at bringing in outside entertainment groups for not only the students but for the entire community.  Leach also shows free movies and documentaries during the main two semesters on Tuesday evenings, which as a fan of classic movies, that is a nice plus!

Probably the only thing our family does agree on is the library.  Rolla’s library tries very hard to serve the public, but when one compares it to the St. Louis County Library system, it pales in the comparison.  If I could have a magic wand, I would wave more monies to Rolla’s Library so they could be come a mini-STL County branch library!  That would be wonderful to behold!  To be fair, the librarians and employees at Rolla’s library work hard and are very helpful, always ready to answer a question, so in that respect, they aren’t as grumpy as some of the  STL’s County branch librarians and employees  were who we encountered off and on for 20 years.   MS&T has a library open to the public,  but I haven’t explored it yet.  I have visions of it only being full of books on engineering, physics, chemistry, quantum physics, nuclear power, mining, calculus, etc.

Other than finding a house to live in,  our family’s other priority was to find a church to worship at and to grow our faith in.  We had been very active members at First Christian Church in Florissant for 20 years, and saying goodbye to that church and all of our friends there was and has been the hardest part of leaving the St. Louis area behind.  Providentially, a very good friend in Florissant happened to be good friends with the Youth Minister at a church in Rolla, Greentree Christian Church.  Another Florissant friend was also friends with the Children’s Minister at Greentree.  Through those two new to us ministers, they helped tremendously in aiding our teens and our elementary-aged son become acclimated to the church, and in helping them to make some connections with teens and kids at the church.  This connection, we believe, was God-directed and it has been a blessing to us in making the transition from a larger community to a smaller one.

To sum up, life in St. Louis has the plus of lots to do for entertainment, shopping, eating out, all close at hand.  It also has the downsides of traffic(but honestly, have you ever driven in Chicago?  Chicago traffic makes St.  Louis’s look like child’s play!), higher taxes, and higher crime rates.  Life in Rolla is definitely at a slower pace, lower taxes, less traffic, and an interesting mix of people: people from this area of South-Central Missouri, people from other countries and from other parts of the state attending the University,  farmers, Amish(there is a growing Amish community); folks working hard to make a living, to do right for their families, raising their children, worshiping God, proud to be from this area of the United States.  And, I add, whatever you do, don’t pronounce the town’s name “Roll-uh”.  It’s Rall-uh, sort of like Raleigh, but with a Missouri twist.

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