Thursday, December 04, 2008

Kansas governor, congressmen from Colo., Ga. lead list of speculation on agriculture secretary

UPDATE, Dec. 6: Sebelius "shocked the Kansas political establishment Saturday by abruptly withdrawing from consideration" for any Cabinet post," report Steve Kraske and Dave Helling of the Kansas City Star. (Read more)

The three leading candidates for secretary of agriculture in the Obama administration are Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Reps. John Salazar of Colorado and Sanford Bishop of Georgia, according to sources of Agri-Pulse, a Washington-based newsletter on agriculture. It is subscriber-based, but offers a four-week trial subscription. Yesterday, The Washington Post listed Sebelius, former Rep. Charles Stenholm of Texas and Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Dennis Wolff, who is a dairy farmer.

"Later in the day, responding to reporters' inquiries, Sebelius indicated she was not interested in the job. Salazar and Bishop may have moved to front-runner status with that development," reports John Walter of Agriculture Online. Here are condensed versions of Agri-Pulse's brief biographies of the three Democrats, with our additions:

Sebelius, a popular governor in her second and final term, has long been on the list because she is viewed as a rising star in Democratic politics. She served eight years in the Kansas legislature and two terms as state insurance commissioner. (She was also on the list of potential Obama running mates, comes from his late mother's home state and is the daughter of former Ohio Gov. John Gilligan.)

Salazar, one of only a handful of active farmers in Congress, serves on the House Agriculture Committee and was recently re-elected to his third term. As the congressman from Colorado's Western Slope, Salazar has developed a strong interest in rangeland and national forest lands. Salazar pushed for fruit and vegetable grower funding as well as funding for renewable fuels research during the 2008 Farm Bill debate. (He is the brother of Sen. Ken Salazar.)

Bishop was a co-chairman of Obama's Georgia campaign, but his name surfaced in speculation only recently. He was first elected in the Black Belt district in 1992, and has been on the House Appropriations Committee since 2003 and its agriculture subcommittee since 2006. He has been especially active on peanut issues, securing committee approval of $74 million for peanut storage in the supplemental spending bill. His voting record has been the most conservative in the Congressional Black Caucus. (He would be the second black secretary of a department that has a checkered record at dealing with African American farmers.)

Meanwhile, seven former agriculture secretaries offered advice about USDA and perspectives on the future of agriculture today in Washington at the Food and Agriculture Policy Summit, sponsored by Farm Journal and Farm Foundation. For an introductory story by Farm Journal's Jeanne Bernick and a video, click here.

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