Q&A: Rep. Roger Marshall talks agriculture, education, trade, partisanship

Rep. Roger Marshall sits down to talk with Collegian staff members on March 30, 2018. (Meg Shearer | Collegian Media Group)

The first weekend back from spring break, the Collegian news staff sat down for a conversation with United States Rep. Roger Marshall, representing the first district of Kansas. In 1987, Marshall graduated from Kansas State with an undergraduate degree in biochemistry. He then went to medical school to become a physician.

He is a freshman member of the House of Representatives, and he serves on the House Agriculture Committee, the Committee on Science, Space and Technology and the House Small Business Committee.

Rafael Garcia, editor-in-chief: “What are you working on right now in Washington?”

Marshall: “Oh my gosh. We have a farm bill that’s going to be delivered in about two weeks, so it’ll hit our committee floor in about two weeks. We’ve been working really hard for the past year so that would be front and center, and working real hard on trade and NAFTA.”

Garcia: “Any specifics on that?”

Marshall: “To me, number one is we were able to fully fund the farm bill. We’re going to make it budget neutral. When I got to Congress a year ago, I was afraid that we were going to lose 10 or 20 percent of the farm bill, and I think that we’re committed to making it budget neutral. So, we can fully fund crop insurance, which is vitally important and the top priority of my producers.

“And there’s something called Title One funding, and it’s basically a price protection, or else a production credit as well, that helps protect the bottom of the market. We make sure we fully fund those. A crop, CRP conservation, is a big part of it. The largest component is nutrition. So, if you have heard of something called food stamps, this is how something called food stamps are funded. That’s about 80 percent of it as well. That would be kind of it in a nutshell.”

Garcia: “At a college here like K-State, where a lot of the students come from an agricultural background, how might you explain what this farm bill might do to a college population?”

Marshall: “I think the most important thing this farm bill does is it keeps the cost of your groceries down. So, you’re a student; you have to buy groceries now. Right now, America, we only spend about six percent of our income on groceries. So, most developed countries, like 18 to 22 percent. Underdeveloped countries, it might be 40, 60, 80 percent of your money on groceries.

“This farm bill helps protect against hail damage and drought and all those types of things, which a farmer can’t control. What helps them is to buy crop insurance. They have to put skin in the game as well to buy crop insurance, but this helps keep the cost of crop insurance down. If they lose their crop to hail, it allows them to re-invest in it. It gives them enough money to plant the next year’s crop. So, this whole farm bill helps keep the price of groceries down for a typical student.”

Rachel Hogan, news editor: “Something that’s really important to college students, because we’re here at college, is funding for higher education. Do you think higher education is ever going to be able to come back from the funding cuts that it’s seen in the last few years?”

Marshall: “Gosh, I didn’t know it had any funding cuts. Is that true?”

Hogan: “Mostly, in Kansas, yes.”

Marshall: “Okay, at the state level. Okay, I’m sorry. So the state’s not funding as much into Kansas State maybe, but at the federal level we haven’t seen any major funding cuts. We just did a budget bill last week, and I want to brag about what we did before you say we’re not doing anything, okay?

“So, what we did last week: we increased the maximum Pell Grant by $175, and then we also increased TRIO. You guys know what TRIO is, and Gear Up? We increased TRIO by $16 million and Gear Up by $10 million, and what I love about those programs is that they’re for first generation college students. I’m a first generation college student. I’m the first person in my family to go to college, so I really have a special place in my heart for kids [whose] parents came from a hardworking background, didn’t get to go to college.

“We also increased funding for the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant. You guys would call that SEOG, which provides aid to low income people. And finally, you guys know what Public Service Loan Forgiveness is? This would be something to get doctors or veterinarians back to rural Kansas. We provided $350 million more to address some eligibility concerns. That’s what we did last week, and I think all of those will have an impact on Kansas students. So, I think at the federal level, we’ve maintained, if not increased, some funding for education, but I can’t speak to what the state has done or not done. I can’t go down with you in the details of that.”

Garcia: “Now, Congressman, those are definitely great solutions to symptoms of this problem of increasing college tuition, but what are some examples, if anything, that Congress might be willing to address that underlying issue of increasing tuition?”

Marshall: “I don’t know that we’re trying to micromanage it. I think that what you’re going to see is more and more kids choosing to go to a community college or technical college because universities have almost priced themselves out of business. I think that students are making those choices, and we’re seeing more kids enroll in community colleges and technical colleges as well. I don’t know at the federal level that we’re sitting there trying to micromanage that situation.”

Garcia: “Do you think that programs such as increased Pell Grants, or some of the other programs that you mentioned, might help contribute to the problem of students going to some of these pricier universities and then being saddled with college debt for years after?”

Marshall: “I think it will help it a little bit, but I would encourage kids to not go into debt to go to college. I would encourage that if you have to borrow money for college, maybe you should consider going to a community college or a technical college, getting a part-time job to borrow as little money as you can to get through college.

“I was able to get all the way through college and medical school, and I paid for everything myself. I think I finished with around $30,000 of debt, and most all of that was accumulated in medical school. So, I don’t think I had $10,000 of debt when I finished at Kansas State, and granted, I know your guys’ is three or four times more now than what it was, but I think the education expenses indeed have went up a lot in the past four years.”

Garcia: “What do you think is the biggest issue facing the people of Kansas right now?”

Marshall: “The price of wheat. The price of sorghum. Cattle’s doing better. Yeah, that’s it. The price of corn, that impacts the economy and how much tax base the state of Kansas has to build roads and bridges, to supplement tuition at Kansas State University. I think it’s the ag economy.

“Sixty percent of the economy in my district is ag-related. Fourth year in a row of a depressed ag economy, farm income is 52 percent of what it was four years ago. So, another reason there’s a decreased enrollment at Kansas State University is these kids’ parents are just having a horrible economy, and they can’t afford to send them here, even if the tuition was less. That’s part of it, too, so that’s what I think it is.”

Hogan: “Do you think the farm bill that you were working on will help in regards into the prices of wheat, corn and sorghum?”

Marshall: “It’s not going to help the price of any of it. What it might do is help them stay afloat, to plant for another year, so that would bring us to trade. So the solution to the price of wheat, if the biggest problem is the price of wheat, the price of sorghum, the price of corn, the best solution I have is to open up new markets, and that’s why I’m working so hard on NAFTA.

“I just got back from Mexico City about three weekends ago, negotiating with Mexico and Canada’s foreign ministers to try to make a stronger, better NAFTA agreement. Thirty-eight percent of the products of Kansas go to either Mexico or Canada, compared to, like, China. China doesn’t take half as much as either one of those two countries. So, NAFTA is vitally important to Kansas.”

Hogan: “Is there any talk amongst congressmen and women about leaving NAFTA? Or has that kind of been abandoned?”

Marshall: “There’s still talk amongst the president, the president and his people. President Trump has said he’s very willing to leave NAFTA, but what they’re forgetting is in the second sentence he says that then he’ll write an even better one the next day. President Trump is certainly dedicated to making a better NAFTA agreement, and he’s certainly comfortable with tearing up the current one and starting over.”

Kaylie McLaughlin, assistant news editor: “Earlier in the year with the repeal of Obamacare, no matter what anybody thinks about it, replacing it was unsuccessful. Are you guys concerned that replacing NAFTA would be unsuccessful as well?”

Marshall: “The good news is, any trade agreement has to be approved by Congress. He has to work with us on this one. Congress is still in control of NAFTA, but not so much with tariffs. The president can pretty much do what he wants to with tariffs, and so these tariffs are bad for agriculture. We’re already seeing a rebound retaliation from China when President Trump talked about a tariff on…”

Hogan: “Steel?”

Marshall: “No, before the steel. Before the steel it was a tariff on washing machines and solar panels. … And overnight, the price of sorghum went down a dollar a bushel because China filed a countervailing lawsuit against the United States on sorghum. So, agriculture always bears the brunt when it comes to retaliation of trade wars and tariffs. Agriculture is always the tip of the spear of retaliation, so I’ve tried to talk a lot with the president about toning down the tariffs a little bit and maybe working with some other countries.”

Hogan: “Kaylie kind of mentioned healthcare a little bit. What’s that dialogue like right now in Congress? What’s it looking like?”

Marshall: “Yeah, it’s kind of quiet on healthcare. Not a whole lot going on. You know, I think the NAFTA is front and central. Trade in general. The tariffs are very much front and center. Immigration is front and center. Infrastructure, those are kind of the big discussions. On the House side, we repealed Obamacare. That bill is sitting there, waiting for the Senate to do something with it. So, we did our part, we repealed Obamacare. Now we’re waiting for the Senate to do something as well.”

Hogan: “Do you think the Senate will?”

Marshall: “No.”

Hogan: “Okay. Why not?”

Marshall: “The Senate takes 60 votes to pass something. A 60 out of 100. In the House, it only takes 50 percent. It’s really hard to get 60 votes in the Senate. There’s 51 republicans, 49 democrats. I don’t see nine democrats coming on board with repealing it.”

Garcia: “Now, that’s something that has existed for quite some time. How has Congress, especially in this past year where we’ve seen a lot of shutdowns, disagreement, partisanship — what is Congress doing to overcome any of that?”

Marshall: “I think, on a personal level, I work very hard to get to know Democrats. The freshman level, the freshman Democrats, the freshman Republicans, I think we’ve had six or seven bipartisan social events. We’ve watched basketball games. We’ve went to the Holocaust Museum, things like that. Went to Mount Vernon about two weeks ago.

“On the Ag Committee, I’ve sat down with almost every Democrat on the committee, went to their office, asked, ‘Why is agriculture important to you? Why are you on this committee? What are your goals? What are your objectives?’ So, to me, it’s about personal relationships. That’s what I’m doing, personally.

“You know, on higher levels, the people who have been there a long time, they’re pretty entrenched. There’s been some old wars, some old battles, some old scars, and those are pretty hard to get over. Additionally, the national media really pushes you, almost backs you into a corner sometimes, pushing people that are maybe Republican further right, and Democrats get pushed further to the left. And social media seems to do the same thing as well.”

Hogan: “It’s very hard to find common ground these days. As someone who’s a little bit more moderate, I feel like people see it as, ‘I don’t feel strongly about anything, so I’m willing to vote for anything.'”

Marshall: “I feel strongly about a lot of things. If you come into Congress and visit me and watch the House floor, you’ll see the Democrat women give me hugs. The freshmen guys fist bump me. I mean, we’re buddies. Sit down beside me, ask how my family’s doing, ask how their wife is doing, what their kids are up to. You’ll see personal relationships.

“I absolutely believe that we can come into a room and disagree on something but still love each other at the end of the day. It’s called respect, and what I try to focus on is goals. I think we all have a goal of having a strong farm bill. I have a goal that no one will go to bed hungry at night. So, we have a lot of the same common goals. Sometimes we differ on how to get there, but as long as I stay focused on the goals and I have … a set of values I can never go beyond, I’ll keep talking and keep negotiating with you. There’s gotta be respect in there.

“I have respect that you have a good heart. I just met the three of you, but I think you have good hearts until proven otherwise. I bet we have a lot of the same goals. I bet 95 percent of our goals for this country are the same. Maybe 99 percent. We may not agree on how to get there. My goal is for you guys to have affordable education. Do I think that the government should come in here and write a blank check? No. When I was in college, did I wish that the government had written a blank check for my scholarships? Yes.”

Garcia: “Beyond some of the initiatives you’ve taken on, along with some of the other freshman representatives, how does Congress overcome that gridlock? Are we just stuck in this? How does Congress or the nation advance?”

Marshall: “You know, I think in this case, it may have to come from the bottom up. It may have to be the freshman class trying to keep relationships. Hopefully there’s some turnover, people that have been entrenched there. One more reason to have term limits would be to get rid of some of this partisanship. Most of the freshman class, we almost all signed onto a bill for term limits. We also made a pledge of civility, so almost all the freshman class took a pledge of civility that I’ll never go on the house floor and… what’s the word?”

Hogan: “Berate?”

Marshall: “Berate. That’s good. Berate another person personally. I’m not gonna go onto Fox News and say, ‘So-and-so’s a bad person and their children are something-something.’ So, it may take some turnover. I’ll just stop there. It would be my hope and prayer, though.”

Garcia: “Over this past month, we’ve seen a lot of protest in response to the tragedy that happened in Florida. We saw that here in Manhattan, Topeka, Washington. It was one of the largest student turnouts in the capital’s history. How is Congress responding to these students?”

Marshall: “I would like to think that we were responding before Parkland, and I’d like to give you objective evidence to what we were doing. Probably a week or two before Parkland, one of my freshman classmates, again, Sheriff John Rutherford — we call him ‘sheriff.’ He was a sheriff in Florida for 30 or 40 years, and he had studied school violence for decades and came up with legislation saying, ‘This is how I think we should try to prevent school violence from happening.’

“I was one of the original co-sponsors of that bill. He came to me and said, ‘Would you support my bill?’ Looked it over. He knows as much about how to prevent school violence as I do about healthcare, since I’m a physician, so I really respected him. And again, two weeks ago, the Senate passed that bill along with us, as well as funding for it.

“Basically, what that bill does is it provides more monies to help make schools more physically secure. Like, your doors here are unlocked. You need to have locked doors. This is not good. You need to have video cameras there that you all can control, and you need a panic button here, okay? Especially, I’m telling you, these girls need a panic button in here. So, all your rooms like that on school — you need to make your school more physically secure, but a lot of the money needs to be spent on training teachers, principals and, at lower levels, students, how to recognize and how to report a person that is a potential problem. Talking about teenage suicide. Is it the second biggest killer of teenagers, is it suicide? I think it is.

“I’m trying to solve all these problems at the same time here. … We have friends that are depressed, but then there are friends that are oh-my-gosh-depressed. The studies I’m seeing, 60 to 80 percent of these mass murders are done by people who are severely depressed or schizophrenic or both. With a little bit of training, I think you can realize, ‘My gosh, my friend needs some help. My friend is suicidal. My friend is threatening to kill people.’ And if you had an anonymous smart app, you could report that to the proper people and get the kid help — I’m trying to get them help, not throw them in jail. How do we get this person help? Maybe it’s a drug issue, whatever it is. How can I empower you all to help yourselves?

“There’s not a law that I can write that will guarantee you protection. If Parkland would have followed … the rules we have in place now, this would have never happened. This kid was reported to the FBI. He was a violent person. I mean, all the warning signs were there that this person was bad news. So that’s one thing we did. The other thing we did, was also we passed a bill to help improve the background checks and make that more efficient as well. So we were doing that before Parkland had happened. We finally got it funded though, recently. So those are a couple things that we’re doing.”

Garcia: “What are the conversations on gun reform?”

Marshall: “Pretty quiet. I think that most of us think that gun reform doesn’t fix anything. We banned high-powered rifles for 10 years, and the violence didn’t go away any. We think that we don’t want to punish law-abiding citizens for something that un-law-abiding citizens are causing. So most of us would think that gun control doesn’t solve the problem.”

Garcia: “How do you think that would be punishment for law-abiding citizens?”

Marshall: “By taking away their Second Amendment.”

Hogan: “Is that the feeling among just the Republican side of Congress, or is that in the Democratic side as well?”

Marshall: “You know, I can’t speak for the Democrats. I can’t. I think that they wouldn’t have unanimity, and I don’t think the Republicans would either. I certainly don’t have many Democrats that I hear making this their mantra right now. I think they’re more concerned about some immigrations issues and the economy, perhaps.”

Hogan: “Sometimes you see what the masses are cheering for, but sometimes it’s not necessarily what needs to happen immediately, right now in the legislature.”

Marshall: Leadership is doing the right thing even if it’s not the most popular thing. I think that, as a physician, you come to me for medical advice. I want to get all the lab results and all the facts that I can, and based upon my years of experience, give you the best advice that I can.

“And now that I’m in Congress, I want to listen to your voices, but not every vote is a popularity contest. I think if you’re a politician and stick your finger up and see which way the wind’s blowing, you’re not doing your job. You hired me. You elected me to go do an in-depth study into every issue that I’m voting on and try to do what I think is best, not just for you, for my district today, for this country today, but what’s best for the next 10 years, the next 20 years, the next 30 years. So, I think it’s real important that we don’t let the wind just blow us about. We need courageous leaders. We need people to do the right thing.

“You know, the kids marching is something I should take into consideration. I’m listening, but it’s not the only fact in this very complex issue. I’m very proud, though, that kids are speaking up rather than just sending me an email. That’s tremendous. I think it’s great that kids are rallying.”

Garcia: “One final question. You represent Kansas politically as our representative in Washington, but how do you think you represent Kansas? What do you think Kansas’ identity is? How would you describe the state of Kansas or the people of Kansas?”

Marshall: “I’m not a politician. I don’t come in here wearing Republican on my wrist. I think most people see that I’m pragmatic, and I think that’s what most Kansans are. We don’t live in this theoretical world. We’re pretty hardened and calloused by this land we live in. If you are lazy and don’t work, you’re going to starve to death and die in Kansas. We have so many things to overcome from nature that we are pretty hardened and ingenious, and we still kind of have this American western spirit in us as well. We’re entrepreneurs. We’re willing to take on a challenge. We’re hardworking.

“I embody that spirit of hard work, and the other really interesting thing to me is, I think that Kansans have this reputation of being peacemakers. You know, I go to Congress, and I’ll see this southern clique sticking together. The eastern clique of people, the western cliques and the northerners a little bit. The north central kind of gravitates to the east coast. So when I’m sitting on that Ag Committee, what these people from the southern part of the the country want is really different from the farmers in the northern part of the country. They look to people from Kansas to say, ‘I heard you. I heard you. I think this is what’s fair. What do you think about that?’ And to keep pushing people into a solution rather than saying, ‘Oh, they’re wrong and picking a side.’ Maybe you think of Dwight Eisenhower Kansan. You think of Bob Dole. That they were, I think, people that pushed people together to solve problems. So that’s what I think I embody, the spirit of Kansans of hard work, pragmatic, peacemakers.”

Hey, hi, hello! I’m Rachel Hogan, the copy chief for The Collegian. I’m a senior in journalism from Olathe, Kansas. When I’m not at work in the newsroom, I like to spend my time cuddling with my dog, working as a barista and laughing with my friends.