(Nov. 13) The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee will resign in May, setting up a change in leadership roles of both the House and the Senate agriculture committees in the 108th Congress.

Rep. Larry Combest, R-Texas, announced Nov. 12 he would resign his seat on May 31 for personal reasons. There is speculation that the resignation may be related to health concerns for either him or his spouse.

A source at the House Agriculture Committee indicated that Combest will give up his chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee when Congress convenes in early January.

The change in the Senate Agriculture Committee was dictated by the GOP takeover of the Senate in the Nov. 5 election, with Iowa Democratic Tom Harkin losing his chairman role to Republican Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

Republicans in the House increased their majority.

The leading candidate to replace Combest is Bob Goodlatte, a fifth-term Congressman from Virginia.

“I hope to follow in the leadership of Congressman Combest as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee,” Goodlatte said Nov. 12.

Agriculture committee vice chairman John Boehner, R-Ohio, who already chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, will not seek the leadership role of the Agriculture Committee. Members can only chair one committee at a time, and Boehner has endorsed Goodlatte.

Another candidate for the chair position on the House Agriculture Committee is Richard Pombo, a California representative with close ties to the produce industry and seniority equal to Goodlatte. Terry Everett of Alabama also is a fifth-term Congressman and could be selected.

“Goodlatte is the only one to publicly say he is interested,” said Robert Guenther, vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, Alexandria, Va. Guenther speculated that Boehner would remain vice chairman.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., chairman of the steering committee, ultimately controls committee leadership assignments.