Cochran’s presence in that position, the equivalent of a vice chairmanship in some ways, gives southern agricultural interests a more powerful presence.
He replaced, peacefully and with the barest hint of public controversy, Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, who has views about federal farm policy different from many farmers in the South.
Cochran won the Ranking chair by vote of the committee caucus, and Roberts stepped aside because he respects seniority and the relationships it represents.
Cochran had been vice chairman of Appropriations (he previously was chairman during a period of Republican control, and he was masterful in that role), but his own party’s rules said he had to give it up after six years. This was the year.
Cochran remains an Appropriations member, and of Rules, but his principal role now will become as Ranking on Agriculture.
Cochran was able to persuade the other committee members because in his 34 years in the Senate he has developed a reputation as a smooth dealer and a balancer of many obligations in pursuit of what he thinks best. Time magazine, which six years ago ranked him one of the 10 best senators, described him as effectively stubborn.
He also was low-profile in terms of national media, but those other members who have been helped by his effective work live by the virtual creed of the Capitol: A favor extended eventually should be reciprocated.
Cochran also is one of the last senators who has friendships and good relationships with peers across the aisle, and few political assets could be more valuable for Mississippi and the South in times of sharp divides.
Cochran can now be more influential in the writing of a new farm bill that more fairly reflects the views of a broad southern agricultural constituency.
“Seniority is an historic part of the Senate and I think there is probably a tablet somewhere where that is written down,” Roberts told Politico.
“I had hoped to stay,” Roberts said. “But agriculture is at a critical point and I just think you don’t want to roil the waters.
“I’ll still be sitting right next to Thad and I intend to continue to make my voice heard.”
Cochran, many people have forgotten but need to know, has been a member of Agriculture since 1979, and he once was its chairman.
He is not a newcomer to writing farm policy, and in many ways Agriculture offers more opportunity for bipartisanship than many other committees.
Considering the essential nature of policy framing food production, safety and products that also clothe people and build houses, Mississippi retains its important role as a beneficiary of seniority.