ADDING TO LIST - Obama's USDA Secretary Choice Down to Near Last List

Published on: 15:46PM Dec 16, 2008
via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.


Eventual nominee could be surprise, or on previous lists all the time

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Whether by design or because of other complex reasons, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to be Agriculture Secretary will be among the last list of nominees announced. And just who the new USDA Secretary will be is still totally guesswork.

Some surprising possibilities have surfaced late in the parlor game of guessing who will lead USDA -- including a Republican, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.).

Another new potential nominee, and one that would be a popular one among southern lawmakers, is Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who is up for reelection in 2010.

News broke over the weekend – with confirmation coming Monday – that Sen. Ken (not Rep. John) Salazar (D-Colo.) will be Obama's pick to lead the Interior Department. That pick is interesting for several reasons, one being that is the best reason why his brother, John, has slipped in the odds for the USDA post -- that and being offered a seat on the Appropriations panel. (And some reports suggest John could be picked as Ken's replacement.)

Food, science and consumer groups urged Obama to appoint a Secretary of Agriculture “who embraces the diversity of programs administered by the Department [of Agriculture] and accepts the responsibility for representing the interests of all Americans, urban as well as rural, consumers as well as producers.”

Defining the position. The groups said the appointee should be one who has “experience with or [has] been an advocate for USDA’s nutrition, conservation and food safety programs and [has] had experience providing leadership to a large and diverse organization,” rather than an appointee “whose primary qualification for the position is their knowledge of and interest in production agriculture and commodity programs.”

The groups recommended changing the name of the Department of Agriculture to better reflect its missions, suggesting “Department of Food, Agriculture and Forestry” or simply the “Department of Food,” and they asked the President-elect to “appoint a Secretary who sees his or her constituency as all the people who eat as well as those who produce.”

The letter was signed by Center for Foodborne Illness, Research & Prevention; Center for Science in the Public Interest; Consumer Federation of America; Consumers Union; Food & Water Watch; Government Accountability Project; Safe Tables Our Priority; Union of Concerned Scientists.

The Associated Press recently reported that University of Nebraska regent Chuck Hassebrook has applied to be the next U.S. agriculture secretary. Hassebrook said he filed a job application with Obama's team on Thursday. The 53-year-old says he was invited to Washington, D.C., by Obama's transition team for a discussion about agriculture and rural development. That prompted him to apply, although Hassebrook told the AP that he had not been interviewed for the job.

Hassebrook is also executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs.

According to one of the AP's lists to run the USDA, the following names were provided:

-- Dennis Wolff, Pennsylvania agriculture secretary.
-- Tom Buis, president of National Farmers Union.
-- Former Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Texas)
-- Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.)
-- Former Rep. Jill Long Thompson (D-Ind.)

Other names mentioned in the past include -- but are not limited to --

-- Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.)
-- Michael Dunn, a member of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission
-- Roger Johnson, North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture
-- Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D)
-- Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge
-- Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Ag Committee
-- John Sullivan, chairman of the Illinois Senate Ag Committee
-- Farm Credit Admin. Commissioner Dallas Tonsager
-- Former USDA Undersecretary Gus Schumacher
-- Former Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa)
-- Former Rep. Eva Clayton (D-N.C.)

Comments: If a name is not on the above lists, that may actually up the odds an unlisted nominee will be announced. Reason: neither of the past two people to head USDA (Mike Johanns and Ed Schafer) were mentioned by major news services on the morning of their actual announcement. So the possibility of a surprise announcement should not be a surprise -- but when this is mentioned, some Democrats quickly say, "This is NOT the Bush administration."

As for Obama, here is what he said at a Dec. 3 press conference:

"I think people are going to say this is one of the most diverse Cabinets and White House staffs of all time. But more importantly, they're going to say these are all people of outstanding qualifications and excellence. So one of the strong beliefs I’ve always held and has proven to be correct throughout my career is that there's no contradiction between diversity and excellence. I’m looking for the best people first and foremost to serve the American people."

Meanwhile, Obama is expected to announce his energy and environmental team today -- I detailed them in a column last week.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.