Trump Agriculture Secretary pick still unclear

Jan Shepel

 Washington, D.C. — With President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration only a week-and-a-half away there was still no word on who he would pick to serve as Agriculture Secretary and that’s causing concern among the leaders of the nation’s farm groups. At press time there was still no word on who Trump would name to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
            Traditionally recent presidents have named their proposed agriculture leaders soon after their picks for Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense but as a steady stream of candidates for Agriculture Secretary are interviewed by the Trump transition team with no word on who will lead the agency, ag groups have begun to worry.
            It was the subject of concern at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting this week. That’s because in a little over a week the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is the federal government’s largest agency, will lose all of its political appointees – Trump has asked them all to resign – and that’s causing concern that there won’t be anyone running that extremely large ship come inauguration day.
            It’s of particular concern to some farm leaders because farmers and rural residents were a key factor in getting Trump elected. They said it’s showing either how difficult it is politically to find the right person for the job to keep that constituency happy or that it considered of little importance.
            Agriculture Secretary is the last cabinet post to be filled by Trump, even as Congress convened and as the Senate began confirmation hearings this week on some of Trump’s first appointees.
            Some in the media considered the top contender to be Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue who was interviewed early on in the process of transition, but then a stream of other candidates have trooped to either Trump Tower in New York City or Trump’s home, Mar-A-Lago in Florida for interviews.
            Former Texas A&M University President Elsa Murano and former California Lt. Gov. Abel Moldonado met with Trump in Florida just before New Year’s Day. Two days later it was Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who met with Trump at Mar-A-Lago two days later. (It’s unclear whether or not he would be disqualified for using coarse language online to describe Hillary Clinton during the election.)
Some observers have said the Trump team may have decided to expand the search to include some Latino and women choices to expand the diversity of the Cabinet.
            Only a few of the Cabinet nominees are women and none are of Hispanic origin. Murano is a Cuban immigrant who served in the USDA for food safety under George W. Bush. Maldonado is a California vineyard owner who served in Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger’s administration.
            Vice President-elect Pence met with former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs for an interview and Idaho’s Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter was also vetted for the position of Agriculture Secretary, which he has said he wants. Otter had told reporters that he had hoped he might serve as Interior Secretary or U.S. Trade Representative, but those positions have already been filled.
            Sam Brownback, the current Republican Gov. of Kansas, who was once the Kansas Agriculture Secretary, has also been interviewed for the top ag post.
            Bob Engel, head of Co-Bank, the bank that serves the nation’s cooperatives, is the most recent person to interview for Agriculture Secretary.

With President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration only a week-and-a-half away there was still no word on who he would pick to serve as Agriculture Secretary.