Sen. Moran makes surprise visit to K-State agricultural policy class

Sen. Jerry Moran speaks to Martin Draper, department head of plant pathology, and Barbara Valent, distinguished professor of plant pathology, after a presentation on wheat blast and its potential threat to wheat growers worldwide in a lab of Throckmorton Hall on Oct. 27, 2016. (Kaitlyn Alanis | The Collegian)

Blending in among 105 students in his purple K-State windbreaker, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., listened to a review of the most missed questions from an agricultural policy quiz by Barry Flinchbaugh, agricultural economics professor, before making his class interruption.

“If we had a better teacher, do you think the quiz scores would have been better?” Moran asked as students whispered their “oohs” and “aahs.”

Aubrey Davis, junior in agricultural economics, said she was surprised at the question and was not sure who it came from.

“At first I was afraid what Flinchbaugh was going to say,” Davis said.

Lacy Pitts, sophomore in agricultural education, said seeing Moran in the middle of students in her class was the coolest thing to ever happen in one of her classes.

As students whispered to their classmates, questioning who the interrupter was and asking if it was actually Moran, the senator began his walk to the front of the room, sporting his K-State windbreaker just before taking it off and presenting a surprise guest lecture in his suit and tie.

“Everyone just like turned around immediately and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s Sen. Moran,” Pitts said. “It was cool when he came down and you could tell (Moran and Flinchbaugh) were friends.”

Davis said it was great to see the friendship between Moran and her professor as it made for an engaging environment.

“I really liked the atmosphere of them as friends when he walked down and it became a talk show,” Davis said. “It was a conversation between those two and they’re both so highly looked up to in the agriculture world.”

When Flinchbaugh questioned his timing of interrupting, Moran said he knew there was no better time.

“I had to intrude earlier because I was forewarned that you have a quiz and I don’t want to make life difficult for you,” Moran said. “I guess there’s potential voters in the room. I don’t want to make anybody mad. I want you all to do well, but you also got to know in my view what a great opportunity you have to be in a classroom with Dr. Flinchbaugh.”

Moran and Flinchbaugh “go way back” and have a “very noticeable friendship.”

“Dr. Flinchbaugh has given me advice since I was a state legislator some long time ago,” Moran said. “If he had grown a beard then, it wouldn’t have been the (white) color that it is today.”

Flinchbaugh, a world-renowned agricultural economist, only said good things about Moran.

“If the world had more politicians like this, we’d be in a hell of a lot better shape,” Flinchbaugh said. “There’s not many ag policy classes or other classes on this campus that get an opportunity to listen to a real live U.S. senator and one that’s not a wing nut.”

This was Moran’s fifth visit to the agricultural policy class, and he said he is just as fond of Flinchbaugh as Flinchbaugh is of him.

“Oh, if the world had more professors like this, we’d be in better shape,” Moran said. “I always try to stop in and hear what Dr. Flinchbaugh has to say.”

An agricultural policy talk show

Having an agriculture background, Moran said he has taken great care in making sure agriculture policy that is passed benefits communities across the state.

“I judge agricultural policy by one thing,” Moran said. “If it increases the chances of young men and women returning from Kansas State University or anywhere else in our state to return to a family farm, that’s good policy. So the goal is to make sure we do things in Washington, D.C., that increase the chances that there’s profitability in agriculture.”

Also serving as the chair of the agriculture appropriations committee, Moran said he works not only to enhance funding for things that matter to those in Kansas, but also to agriculture across the country.

As an example, Moran said his committee funds the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Just last week, Moran said he visited campus to learn about the wheat blast research that is funded by taxpayers and allocated by the appropriations process he chairs.

Outside of research, something Moran said he extremely values, he also talked to the students about the farm bill and nutrition programs.

“There are those that say the farm bill should only be farm policy and not nutrition programs,” Moran said. “The reality is nutrition programs, food stamps, that side of the farm bill, which consumes more and more of it all the time, it can succeed on its own. There are many more members of Congress that care about those issues than care about farm policy and so from a selfish point of view, we better keep the two topics together.”

Without keeping food and nutrition programs in the same policy as agriculture, Moran said nothing will ever get done.

“When you don’t understand what (Moran) just said, you’re either lying or dumb,” Flinchbaugh said. “It’s not rocket science. It’s ag policy and food policy and they go together.”

The most missed quiz question

“When professor Flinchbaugh was talking about the quiz question that many of you missed, or was missed most often, that’s exactly a provision or a proviso we would deal with,” Moran said.

According to the question and the correct answer, which dealt with the Agriculture Risk Coverage program, the program has made no payments in some counties and corn payments are more uniform in the Midwest.

“The issues you were talking about gives us the opportunity to tell USDA you have to do something different than what you’re doing,” Moran said. “The disparities between counties are dramatic and I think the reason for those disparities was the quantity—the bushes per acre that occurred—were wide-ranging even among even three counties that run next to each other.”

Moran said these are complicated issues and Flinchbaugh is the expert.

“I have no standing to talk agricultural policy or details of legislation or farm bills in front of Dr. Flinchbaugh,” Moran said. “I’m honored to be here and someday I hope to teach. Although you’re all very intimidating to me.”

Being around students, Moran said, is refreshing because it allows him to see that despite all the “noise” in the world — a song by Kenny Chesney, which Moran said accurately describes to him what the world is currently like — the “basic things that matter” are still taking place, such as students being educated and employers hiring educated citizens.

Editorial note: Sen. Moran is running for reelection to the United States Senate versus Democrat Patrick Wiesner and Libertarian Robert Garrard.

Hi, I'm Kaitlyn Alanis, former news editor for the Collegian and a May 2017 graduate in agricultural communications and journalism. I have never tried a hamburger and I hate the taste of coffee, but I love writing stories and sharing what I learn with our readers. By writing for the Collegian, I can now not only sing along when the K-State Band plays "The Band is Hot," but I also know that most agriculture students did not grow up on a farm, how to use an AED to save someone's life and why there is a bust of MLK Jr. outside of Ahearn Field House. Thanks for reading!