Rural America helped deliver the White House to President-elect Donald Trump in a big way, adding to the importance to name the right person to lead the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Trump, it’s that his decisions defy expectations. Amid the speculation of who Trump selects to serve in his cabinet, some are wondering why the agriculture secretary position is still unfilled.
“Is this normal? I’m not sure how to define normal anymore,” Dale Moore, executive director for public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Several past presidents named agriculture and interior secretaries early in the transition, as they are typically less controversial picks. “In this case, it appears that agriculture and interior are going to be at the bottom of this.”
Trump tapped Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers to lead the Department of Interior, and agriculture secretary could be next. (RELATED: Trump To Pick Cathy McMorris Rodgers As Interior Secretary)
Here are four top contenders for agriculture secretary:
Texas Agriculture Secretary Sid Miller styles himself as a cowboy, wearing a white hat and cowboy boots almost everywhere he goes, but he actually is one. The 61-year-old competes and often wins rodeo calf roping competitions, grew up on a ranch and still runs cattle.
Miller was a vocal Trump supporter, an early addition to Trump’s agriculture advisory committee during the campaign, and champions Trump’s policies of better trade agreements and deregulation.
“Donald Trump will be great for agriculture,” Miller told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an interview in August. “We will have less regulation, we will have good supreme court justices and we will make better [trade] deals.” (RELATED: Meet The Texas Rodeo Cowboy Advising Trump On Agriculture)
Controversy about Miller’s social media habits rivals that of the president-elect himself. Miller retweeted a post calling Hillary Clinton a “cunt” just days before the Nov. 8 election. The tweet was about a poll of auto industry workers, and said: “TRUMP 44 Cunt 43.” Miller said an aide was responsible for the retweet.
The Texas Tribune found 10 instances of “demonstrably false, misleading or unsupported information” on Millers social media feeds over a period of several years, making him complicit in the spread of “fake news.”
“I’m not a news organization. Y’all are holding me to the same standards as you would a news organization, and you know it’s just Facebook,” Miller recently told KUT News in Austin, Texas.
Charles Conner is CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, a powerful organization that advocates on behalf of farms and smaller farm co-ops across the nation.
President George W. Bush tapped Conner to be the interim head of USDA for a few months in 2007. When the new appointee took over, “Those of us who worked in agriculture for many years felt it was a great mistake that Chuck wasn’t made secretary of agriculture at that point,” said Otto Doering, professor of agriculture economics at Purdue University.
Conners has a more subtle take on regulations than the president-elect, saying that while many farm have come to accept that regulations are important, many rules “do not seem to make any sense, do not seem to be addressing a real concern, and do not seem likely to accomplish much of anything.”
Conner supports a reform of the immigration system to make it easier for immigrants to legally take part in farm work, a concern for many farmers worried that harsh immigration policies floated by Trump will make it harder or more expensive to find laborers.
Commentators were shocked Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback won reelection to the governorship in 2014, decrying the Republican’s hardline policies. Brownback hasn’t backed down, leading the fight to defund Planned Parenthood in Kansas this year. He also removed Kansas from the federal refugee program.
“As governor, I must have confidence that the refugee relocation program, and particularly the vetting process, is sufficient to protect our citizens,” Brownback said in a statement in August. “If I have to choose between the safety and security of Kansans and the relocation of refugees, I will take action to protect Kansans.”
Brownback, however, has disagreed with Trump on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade deal Trump has criticized as being unfair to American workers.
“For a rural export state like Kansas, anything you can do to open foreign markets up is a good thing generally,” Brownback said in October. “We are export-dependent as a state.” (RELATED: Two Of Trump’s Agriculture Advisers Break Ranks On Trade Deal)
Former Georgia Gov. George Ervin “Sonny” Perdue is one of the more likely candidates for Trump’s cabinet. Of the men named here, Perdue is the one who has met with Trump since the Nov. 8 election, according to pool reports from Trump Tower.
The 69-year-old was governor of Georgia from 2003 to 2011, and was the first Republican elected as governor of Georgia in more than a century. While governor, Perdue was criticized for taking part in a prayer vigil on the steps of the Georgia state house during a horrific drought in 2007.
After meeting with Trump Nov. 30, Perdue told reporters that he didn’t talk about anything specific with the president-elect.
“He asked me what my skills sets were and I told him what they were, aside from having been governor, as a business person and primarily in agricultural commodities, trading domestically and internationally, and he lit up.”
Perdue seems to align with Trump on trade, a key issue for agriculture groups. “[Trump] believes that we in the United States have been sort of patsies over the years in the way we’ve dealt with our foreign competitors and international trade — and I agree with him — and he wanted to know what I would do about it,” Perdue said after the meeting.
Perdue said he would be happy to serve in Trump’s cabinet if asked.
Other Republicans, like former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Former Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska and outgoing Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, also appear on various lists of potential Trump picks.
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