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November 5 , 2007 - Surprise Secretary of Agriculture

During his two terms in the White House, President George W. Bush has nominated three people to be Secretary of Agriculture. All three of those nominations have come, in some way, as a surprise to many people in the agricultural community, including yours truly.

You recall his first nomination, Ann Veneman, first lady to be nominated and confirmed, and to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. When Secretary Veneman departed the post, people looked at the long list of nominees, and then the “short list”. They did not see the name of the next nominee, Mike Johanns, who was serving as Governor of Nebraska. That name came out of the blue to many people, again including yours truly.

Mike Johanns then moved into the office and indeed made his mark as an effective Secretary, beginning his term with a series of “listening sessions” across the agriculture community of America. He resigned a couple of months ago to return to Nebraska to run for the Republican seat in the Senate in that state.

The President appointed Chuck Conner, Deputy Secretary to be Acting Secretary of Agriculture. Most of us felt that with a year to go in the Bush Administration, Chuck Connor would sit in that seat either as Acting Secretary until the end, or perhaps the President would name him Secretary. But not many of us, and again, that includes me, thought the President would go out and select a new person to become Secretary.

And so, yet another surprise, particularly to the folks of North Dakota. Farm broadcaster Mike Hergert of Grand Forks said it came as a complete surprise to him and his listeners when Ed Schafer was nominated by the President to become the next Secretary of Agriculture.

The President said Ed Schafer, who served two terms as Governor of North Dakota, is the right person for the job. He is the grandson of Danish immigrants who farmed the North Dakota plains and while his career has been in manufacturing, he said living in North Dakota just naturally gave him a good understanding of agricultural issues. He is a strong supporter of agricultural trade, as well as the alternative fuels industry.

But he moves into the Secretary’s office at an interesting and challenging time, to orchestrate the successful conclusion of the writing of the 2007 Farm Bill. I interviewed Mr. Schafer while he was Governor; I now look forward to interviewing him as Secretary of Agriculture. We should all wish him well.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.