Ag Policy Blog

Ag Secretary Candidates: Drain the Swamp, But Don't Burn Bridges

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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We'll know shortly who will get the opportunity to fill the top job at USDA and a lot of quality names have been floated around in the past two weeks.

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom highlighted the possibility earlier this week that a pair of Hoosiers could fill the spot. Indiana Agriculture Department Director Ted McKinney, an appointee of Vice President-elect Mike Pence as governor of Indiana, is possible. So is Chuck Conner, a Hoosier who is the president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. Conner, who is scheduled to speak at this year's DTN Ag Summit, Dec. 5-7 in Chicago, and also served as Agriculture deputy secretary and acting secretary.…

Indiana, by the way, hasn't had an Agriculture secretary since Earl Butz left the office in 1976,

Politico published a list that included former governors Dave Heineman of Nebraska, Sonny Perdue of Georgia, Rick Perry of Texas and current Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Politico also included Indiana farmer Kip Tom, dairy executive Mike McCloskey from Indiana, Bruce Rastetter, a farmer and ethanol businessman from Iowa, former Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock, and Charles Herbster, the Nebraska cattleman who was a strong advocate for Trump.…

There's also the Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller, whose name has been mentioned. Politico called him "the most controversial name" on the Trump short list because Miller has little bit of Butz in him. Miller created a controversy through his Twitter account referring to Hillary Clinton with a vulgar term just days after the election. Miller claimed a staffer did it and apologized.

But Politico's reference calling Miller "most controversial" is somewhat inaccurate. That's because another name keeps popping up: outgoing Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas. Huelskamp, who lost a primary last summer, has thrown his hat in the ring. According to the Wichita Eagle and KWCH-TV, a member of Trump's transition team, Alan Cobb, spoke Thursday at Wichita State University and confirmed reports that Huelskamp is being considered for the Ag secretary post.…

Since 2011, Huelskamp has represented one of these largest congressional farm districts in the country. According to the U.S. Ag Census, the Kansas 1st is the largest congressional district in terms of total value of agricultural products sold -- a big agricultural machine.

Huelskamp, however, lost his August primary by a 57% - 43% vote to a physician, Roger Marshall, partially because the agricultural groups in Kansas backed his challenger.

Kansas ag groups shunned Huelskamp partially due to his erasable nature that caused him to lose committee assignments not just in Congress, but when he was in the Kansas statehouse as well.

Kansas lost representation on the House Agriculture Committee when GOP leadership kicked him off in 2012, along with a couple of other conservatives who butted heads with House leaders. Huelskamp tried to get his ag committee assignment back, but there were never any public statements from committee members willing to bring him back into the fold.

So a Kansas incumbent Republican congressman lost the support of the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Livestock Association. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also aggressively campaigned for Marshall over Huelskamp.

The argument for Huelskamp is that he's somewhat of a rabble-rouser who would fit into the "drain the swamp" mode. The Topeka Capital-Journal quoted former Ag Secretary Dan Glickman, also a Kansan, on Thursday saying he would be surprised if Huelskamp was chosen. "You cannot have burned bridges," Glickman said. "It's a non-start. They won't even appoint you if you've burned bridges, in my opinion."…

USDA helps keep an agricultural economy running that accounts for $775 billion in economic activity. The department has a budget of $156 billion and more than 100,000 employees. Catch phrases such as "drain the swamp" can provide a sense of direction, but you can't burn the bridges when you are also trying to build a cabinet.

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