Former ag committee chairman Cochran dies

Longtime Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran passes away at age 82.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

May 30, 2019

3 Min Read
Thad Cochran USDA.jpg
USDA phoo by Bob Nichols

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R., Miss.), who represented Mississippi in Congress for more than 45 years, passed away early Thursday morning in Oxford, Miss. Services are pending.

Cochran, a Navy veteran who eventually served as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senate Agriculture Committee, resigned from the Senate in April 2018 due to health concerns.

In 1972, Cochran was elected U.S. Congressman for the Fourth District, which included 12 counties in southwest Mississippi. In 1978, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, becoming the first Republican in more than 100 years to win a statewide election in Mississippi.

As ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee in the 113th Congress, Cochran played a pivotal role in helping enact a new five-year farm bill. The Agricultural Act of 2014 improved and reformed federal agricultural policies while also driving down government spending. The law also consolidated and reformed conservation programs.

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said of the news: “Very sad to hear of the passing of my dear friend, former Sen. Thad Cochran. We were partners on the agriculture committee and worked to pass a historic, bipartisan farm bill in 2014. We are grateful for his service, and he will be missed.”

House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) said, “Chairman Cochran was a gentleman to all who knew and worked with him, but his calm demeanor belied a skilled legislator who represented his state well. I was fortunate to work with him in his role at the Senate Agriculture Committee, where he was a strong advocate for America’s farmers and ranchers as well as those who participate in the farm bill’s nutrition programs.”

In a statement Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R., Miss.) who took over the seat once Cochran stepped down, said many colleagues who served with him consistently speak of him with high regard. â€œSo many have said to me that he was truly their favorite senator and friend. He treated everyone with distinction and had a caring and concerned heart for his constituents and the state he so dearly loved,” Hyde-Smith said.

Cochran, a longtime member of the Congressional Sportmen’s Caucus, authored the Mississippi Wilderness Act, which was the first federal legislation ever passed for the perpetual protection of lands in the state of Mississippi. He helped establish national wildlife refuges as a member of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, and he authored the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. In 1994, Cochran was named Conservationist of the Year in Mississippi by Ducks Unlimited. He was named Conservationist of the Year in 1996 by the North American Waterfowl Federation and received the Conservation Achievement Award from the National Wildlife Federation. The Nature Conservancy has honored Cochran with a lifetime achievement award, and a group of conservation organizations presented him with a National Wetlands & Wildlife Award in 2012.

Cochran has also been at the heart of the debate to reauthorize and improve the National Flood Insurance Program. His work on the program’s treatment of levees and other flood control infrastructure dramatically influenced how the program assesses healthy flood control infrastructure.

Cochran effectively used his seniority in the Senate and on the Senate Appropriations Committee to help Mississippi and the nation in the wake of disasters. In 2005, he spearheaded the effort to provide more than $87 billion in supplemental federal assistance to Mississippi and Gulf Coast states devastated by Hurricane Katrina — the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. Since then, Cochran used lessons from Hurricane Katrina to co-author legislation enacted in early 2013 to reform and improve federal disaster recovery activities.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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