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Election Results – What it Means for Agriculture Committees

November 5, 2008

With the elections now over, we’re turning our attention to recommendations for the new Administration. Over the next several weeks we’ll feature some of the ideas that are percolating within SAC’s membership about recommendations—part of SAC’s Presidential Transition Team Project. Before we kick that off, however, here’s a quick analysis of the impact of election results on incumbent seats on the Agriculture Committee and Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

Quick snapshot – the numbers for the Agriculture Committee:

2 incumbent Democrat Senate seats (Harkin, Baucus)– defended

3 incumbent Republican Senate seats (Cochran, McConnell, Roberts) – defended

2 incumbent Republican Senate seat (Chambliss, Coleman) – in a tossup

4 incumbent Democrat House seats (Kagen, Space, Walz, Gillibrand) – defended

3 incumbent Democrat House seats (Boyda, Lampson, Mahoney) – lost

2 incumbent Republican House seats (Hayes, Musgrave) – lost

Quick snapshot – the numbers for the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee:

No change. Four incumbent Democrat Senate seats were defended (Harkin, Durbin, Johnson, and Reed) and two incumbent Republican Senate seats were defended (Cochran, McConnell). The only change on the House Subcommittee is the retirement of Ray LaHood (R-Illinois).

Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., left, and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, hold an Agriculture Committee field-hearing on the 2007 Farm Bill in Colorado. March 12, 2007. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Hyoung Chang)

Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), easily defended his seat. Senator Harkin has been a long-time champion of sustainable agriculture issues, including most prominently his efforts to create and protect the Conservation Stewardship Program.

Other Agriculture Committee Member incumbents who won were Max Baucus (D-Montana) and on the Republican side, Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), and Pat Roberts (R-Kansas). Senators Cochran and McConnell also serve on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

In a surprising turn of events, Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) now looks to be facing a possible four-week runoff with Democrat Jim Martin for the U.S. Senate seat in Georgia. Neither candidate has the required 50 percent of the vote to avoid the run-off: as of Wednesday morning Chambliss had 49.9 percent and Martin had 46.7 percent.

Another Republican Senate Agriculture Committee member in a tossup is incumbent Senator Norm Coleman from Minnesota who is facing down Al Franken. Coleman is said to be edging out Franken, but with the margin around 300 votes, it falls well within the threshold for automatic recount. The final count may not be known until December.

Seven of the unusually large class of ten freshman Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee retained their seats, and all but two of those seven received more than 60 percent of the vote. Two Freshman Democrat Members of the House Agriculture Committee have hung onto their seats with less than 60 percent: Reps. Steve Kagen (D-Wisconsin) and Zach Space (D-Ohio). Representative Kagen was one of several Agriculture Committee Freshmen that championed some of SAC’s issues during the recent farm bill fight. In particular, Kagen fought hard to win support for local food systems provisions including increased funding for the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program. Other strong SAC issue supporters winning re-election from the freshman class were Tim Walz (Minnesota) and Kirsten Gillibrand (New York).

While House Democrats emerged from last night’s elections with a larger majority, three of the Democratic incumbents who got knocked off were (former) members of the House Agriculture Committee: Reps. Nick Lampson (Texas), Nancy Boyda (Kansas), and Tim Mahoney (Florida).

Boyda, in particular, was supportive of sustainable agriculture and during the recent Farm Bill fight. Boyda helped with the ultimately successful effort to turn the discretionary authorization of the Community Food Project Grants into mandatory funding. She was also an outspoken opponent of market consolidation in the livestock industry and co-authored a letter opposing JBS Acquisitions—a Brazilian beef company and third largest beef processor in the U.S.—acquiring two U.S. beef processors.

Two Republican Members of the House Agriculture Committee will also be packing their bags: Reps. Robin Hayes (R-North Carolina) and Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colorado). Current Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte easily won re-election, but is term limited out of the job as lead Republican on Agriculture, a slot that is now widely rumored to be going to Oklahoma’s Frank Lucas.

Categories: General Interest

One response to “Election Results – What it Means for Agriculture Committees”

  1. Ozlem Altiok says:

    Hi all,
    Thanks for the great work you are doing. I think it is really important that we do not get all comfortable because Obama is elected, and work for the kinds of change we want to see. To that end, I believe that who gets into office as Secretary of Agriculture is going to be important.

    I think Margaret Krome who has coordinates the national grassroots effort to fund federal programs supported by the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture would be a great pick.

    I do not know her personally, but could not help but throw her name out to be included in a list of sustainable agriculture-friendly names submitted to Obama.

    Ozlem Altiok