House members are jostling to take over as chair of the Agriculture Committee following the defeat of its current head, longtime Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Down ballot races carry environmental implications | US officially exits Paris climate accord Centrist Democrats talk leadership changes after negative election results House Democrats fall way short in disappointing night MORE (D-Minn.).
Peterson, who has chaired the committee for six of his nearly 30 years in Congress, suffered a major loss on Tuesday, with Republican Michelle Fischbach defeating the congressman by a stunning 13 points in a district long targeted by the GOP.
The toppling of the 15-term incumbent means the House committee will no longer be represented by someone hailing from one of the more agriculturally-focused districts in the country, though the race to replace Peterson could provide some historic firsts.
Rep. David ScottDavid Albert ScottMichigan worker gets 13 stitches after slicing fingers on booby-trapped Trump-Pence sign The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden marks 4th anniversary of Pulse nightclub shooting Georgia Rep. David Scott wins primary, avoiding runoff after final tally MORE (Ga.), the second-highest ranking Democrat on the Agriculture panel, sent a letter to colleagues Thursday afternoon kicking off his campaign.
“If elected, I would approach my role as the first African American to chair the Agriculture Committee, and the first African American from Georgia to chair any committee, with a principled focus on addressing inequities in agriculture and advancing racial progress for all,” he wrote.
Reps. Jim CostaJames (Jim) Manuel CostaHouse Democrats call on State Department for information on Uighur prisoner Ekpar Asat Hispanic Caucus requests meeting with private detention center CEOs Black Caucus rallies behind Meeks for Foreign Affairs gavel MORE (Calif.) and Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeOfficials urge social media groups to weed out election disinformation targeting minority voters Letter from Trump taking credit for aid now mandated in government food boxes: report This week: House returns for pre-election sprint MORE (Ohio), the next two most senior Democrats on the committee, are other possible contenders for the role. Neither responded to requests for comment.
While it may draw less attention than other House panels, the Agriculture Committee is responsible for directing trillions of dollars to various agriculture priorities through the five-year farm bill as well as determining policy on food stamps, crop insurance, subsidies and conservation efforts.
“You can’t just pass a [farm] bill with farm representative votes. The farm and rural areas don’t have enough votes. So you have to work hard to build a coalition that brings in suburban and urban votes as well,” said Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union.
While Costa, who is also a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, comes from a rural area of central California, Scott and Fudge’s districts in Georgia and Ohio are much more urban.
Earl Pomeroy, a former Democratic House member from North Dakota who served on the panel, said Fudge would be “precedent shattering on three counts” as “the first woman, African American and person from an urban area to chair the committee.”
But Congressional Black Caucus members have also been pushing Fudge to Joe BidenJoe BidenAides tried to get Trump to stop attacking McCain in hopes of clinching Arizona: report New Trump campaign lawsuit targets late-arriving Georgia mail ballots Rihanna calls on officials to ‘count every vote’ following Election Day: ‘We’ll wait’ MORE‘s campaign as a potential contender to be Agriculture secretary should Biden win the White House.
Larew said that when it comes to leading the House committee, not having a straight farm background may not be as key anymore in part because of Peterson’s work incorporating other interests in the farm bill.
In his pitch to colleagues, Scott touched on climate change, rural economies and food security.
“The challenges before us go beyond simply fixing the mistakes of past administrations,” he wrote. “Each hearing, markup, and legislative action must take a step forward toward building a more equitable, dynamic and resilient agriculture industry that lays forth a new path for future generations.”
Pomeroy said any of the next three Democrats in line would make a good chair, though he lamented Peterson’s loss, saying it would have an impact on his highly rural and agriculture-based Minnesota district.
“He had achieved a place of power as chair of the House Ag Committee that delivered in very tangible ways for his constituents,” the former lawmaker said.
“He has defended the sugar program very, very effectively over many assaults through the farm bill years. He has built the best crop insurance program famers have ever had, he’s stood up for ethanol. He’s been a champion on ag trade. Right down the line there’s no one that has done more for farmers in his district than Chairman Peterson,” Pomeroy added.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpAides tried to get Trump to stop attacking McCain in hopes of clinching Arizona: report Officials warn delayed vote count could lead to flood of disinformation New Trump campaign lawsuit targets late-arriving Georgia mail ballots MORE won Peterson’s district by more than 30 points four years ago and the GOP targeted it as a potential pickup after Peterson won reelection in 2018 by 4 points. Fischbach was also selected for the House Republican campaign arm’s “Young Guns” program.
For his part, Peterson was one of the Democratic Caucus’s more conservative members, voting in line with Second Amendment and pro-life interests. Pomeroy described his former colleague as a “grumpy old Norwegian” culturally in line with his district.
Pomeroy noted that more rural areas in the South and West with much larger congressional delegations — and at times different farming priorities — may now get priority as Peterson loses his leadership spot on the Agriculture Committee.
“I will confidently say it will be a very long time before our region has the gavel of the House Agriculture Committee again, and as a result we’ve lost a tremendous amount of clout, which will be demonstrated as the dollars run short for us in future farm bills,” Pomeroy said.