(Nov. 7, 1:14 p.m.) Speculation over who will be named Agriculture Secretary under President Obama in the days after the Nov. 4 election includes a long list of Capitol Hill Democrats, former governors, state department of agriculture directors and farm industry leaders.
The list includes:
- Tom Bius, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Farmers Union;
- Charlie Stenholm, former congressman from Texas;
- Dennis Wolff, Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture;
- Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.;
- Tom Vilsack, former Democratic governor of Iowa; and
- House Agriculture chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
The theme of the Obama campaign —compromise and reaching across the aisle — should bode well for agriculture and specialty crop producers, said Laura Phelps, president of the American Mushroom Institute, Washington, D.C.
The name mentioned most often for the agriculture secretary post is Bius, said Ron Gaskill, spokesman for the American Farm Bureau Federation, Washington, D.C. Another possibility is that Obama could select an ag leader from Iowa because his campaign used several agricultural advisors from that state.
Tom Nassif, president of the Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers Association, said he heard that former Iowa governor Vilsack may be the front runner for the USDA post.
“It seems to me they want to reward former governors and former senators by giving them cabinet posts,” he said.
A clearer picture of who President-elect Obama favors for cabinet posts might emerge by mid-November, said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. “He is focusing on the major White House appointments now and he will move down the chain,” he said.
Tom O’Brien, Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist with the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., said important political appointments within the USDA — notably the Agricultural Marketing Service administrator position — may not be in place until September of next year.
“More often than not, there’s a Californian in that spot,” he said, suggesting that influential Democratic Reps. Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa might play a role.
In general, President Obama likely will be friendlier toward farm policy than John McCain would have been, Gaskill said.
However, Gaskill said that might be balanced by less grower-friendly policy relating to trade agreements and likely increased regulation in regard to energy and the environment.
Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said in Nov. 6 news release that the Bush administration is poised to make the transition as seamless as possible.
FDA and HHS spots
Meanwhile, possible candidates mentioned for the top Food and Drug Administration post include Obama campaign adviser Steve Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic, Duke University cardiologist Robert Calif, former FDA official Mary Pendergast and current FDA official Janet Woodcock. Also, one report indicated Obama’s administration might consider creating a separate food safety agency.
Other press reports said possible candidates for the Secretary of Health and Human Services include former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat; National Institute of Health director Harold Varmus; Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat.