The Next USDA Secretary... The List Grows

Published on: 05:55AM Nov 10, 2008

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Guessing who will lead USDA is just that... a guessing game

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-- USDA Secretary: The list is growing regarding who will be President-elect Barack Obama's choice to head up the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Perspective: I recall that the past two USDA secretaries – Mike Johanns and the current Ag Secretary Ed Schafer – were not publicly mentioned as possibilities until just before they were officially announced.

Importantly, some observers tell me that former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), an early Obama backer, could have a big say in recommending some Ag Secretary possibilities to Obama -- with some sources saying Daschle himself could be tapped for USDA's top slot.

Some possibilities (in no particular order) include:

-- Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.): Daschle was an early supporter of Obama and led his team in wooing Super Delegates to the Democratic Convention. Sources say he wanted the Chief of Staff position, but with that taken, he could opt for the USDA or Health and Human Services Cabinet post if offered. If he is tapped for USDA, he would be a "super" Cabinet secretary because of his vast experience in trade policy, energy and of course grain and livestock production topics. He knows Obama well and would be akin to the close relationship former USDA Secretary Dick Lyng had with former President Ronald Reagan. While some say Daschle would prefer a more inside the White House position, his multi-topic portfolio would make him a formidable Cabinet secretary at any post.

-- Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.): Salazar's election to the Senate was the first real indication that showed the Democratic Party that they could make inroads into the rural vote if they just tried harder.

-- Jill Long Thompson: She was defeated in the Indiana governor race, and is a former Congresswoman who served as Undersecretary for Rural Development in the Clinton administration. The Nov. 4 election results showed that Indiana's electoral votes for the first time since 1964 went to a Democratic candidate.

-- Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D), who could be seen as a “thank you” to Iowa for backing Obama in both the Iowa caucus, and the general election (however, he backed Hillary Clinton during the primaries).

Some other potential agriculture-related official from Iowa could easily be the selection, such as Patty Judge, Former ag commissioner and currently Lt. Governor of Iowa.

-- Marshall Matz, a principal with law firm Olsson, Frank, Weeda, Terman, Bode & Matz: Along with Dallas Tonsager (see below), Matz helped shape Obama's rural policy strategy.

-- Dallas Tonsager: Member of the Farm Credit Administration, a former state director in USDA's rural development efforts, former president of the South Dakota Farmers Union, and a former aide to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

-- House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.): While Peterson has indicated he does not want the position, that does not mean he would reject it if offered.

-- Former Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas): Well known and liked in the farm and agribusiness sector, Stenholm has proven he can reach across the political aisle to reach a compromise. However, he is now a lobbyist and Obama has previously indicated he wants no lobbyists in his Cabinet positions.

-- Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), a popular lawmaker who seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party.

-- National Farmers Union (NFU) President Tom Buis: A poplar farm group president who has brought the organization a lot of respect, Buis also was a former Daschle, but like Stenholm, is a lobbyist. While Buis said earlier this week he does not want the job, he said he would “consider” it if the president-elect asked.

-- North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, who was a former president of the influential National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA).

Comments: Give me your selections for the Ag Secretary or other posts because frankly, an IWT reader in the past has accurately alerted me to the past three leaders of USDA -- before they were announced.

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