Pat Roberts, a champion for agriculture who has represented Kansas in Congress for decades, last week announced he will retire at the end of his current term rather than run for reelection in 2020. The 82-year-old Republican, who served eight terms in the House from the “Big First” district of central and western Kansas, is the only lawmaker to chair both the House and Senate Agriculture committees, positions he used to reshape decades of farm policy. Roberts oversaw development of the 1996 Freedom to Farm law as chairman of the House committee. He also served in the Senate since 1997 and helped draft the 2018 farm bill President Donald Trump signed into law last month. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Ag Committee, said Roberts "has been a true champion for American agriculture and for Kansas farmers, ranchers, and families. Day in and day out, he defines what it means to be a consensus builder. As my true friend and partner on the Senate Agriculture Committee, he always puts the needs of our farmers and ranchers first and never wavers in his commitment to getting things done."

Mindi Brookhart is starting the new year as deputy press secretary for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. The Ohio State grad had been serving as a press assistant to the House Agriculture Committee.

Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., has a new communications director. He’s Owen Dodd, who’s been working in the press office of Rep. John Larson, D-Conn. Dodd will be taking over from Jonathan Black, who’s moving to the policy side in Bishop’s office.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who’ll run the Senate Finance Committee in the 116th Congress, has announced his permanent tax, trade and oversight and investigations staffs. The tax policy staff includes: Mark Warren (chief tax counsel), Eric Oman (deputy chief tax policy adviser), Chris Conlin and Andre Barnett (tax counsels), Chris Allen (senior adviser for benefits and exempt organizations), Nicholas Wyatt (tax infrastructure and nominations policy advisor), and Alex Monié (professional staff). The Trade Policy staff includes: Nasim Fussell (chief international trade counsel), Brian Bombassaro (international trade counsel), and Andrew Brandt and Rory Heslington (international trade policy advisers). Members of the Oversight and Investigations staff include: DeLisa Ragsdale (chief investigative counsel), Joshua Flynn-Brown (senior investigative counsel), Dario Camacho and Caitlin Soto (investigative counsels), and Daniel Parker (investigator). To see brief bios of the appointees, click here.

Steph Carlson, a former staffer for Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, has assumed the role of legislative assistant in Grassley's personal office, where she'll handle ag policy.

The Corn Refiners Association hired Michael Anderson as senior director of trade and industry affairs. He joins CRA from the International Trade Commission, where he worked on trade remedy investigations, free trade agreements and trade policy analysis for the Congress and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Senate Commerce Committee staffer Patrick Fuchs has been confirmed by the Senate as a member of the Surface Transportation Board. Fuchs has been serving as senior professional staffer on Commerce’s subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security. The Surface Transportation Board oversees the nation’s freight rail system.

Randy Gartin was named Republican chief tax counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee. He’s been working as tax counsel for the committee’s Tax Policy Subcommittee. Gartin is succeeding Barbara Angus, who’s leaving the committee staff after serving as chief tax counsel for almost three years.

Rep. Steve Watkins of Kansas, who was elected to the 116th Congress, named Jim Joice, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, as his communications director. Watkins also announced that Bill Roe will be his deputy chief of staff and Adam York will serve as legislative director. Roe was chief of staff to Watkins’ predecessor, Lynn Jenkins, who retired, and York was her deputy chief of staff. Watkins said earlier that Colin Brainard will be his chief of staff. Brainard worked previously for Jenkins but more recently as executive director of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee.

Two former Republican lawmakers have joined the public law and policy practice at Akin Gump in the nation’s capital, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as a senior advisor and Lamar Smith as a senior consultant. Ros-Lehtinen spent nearly three decades as the U.S. representative from Florida’s 27th District, while Smith, a Texan, most recently served as chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Cathy Hurwit has retired after serving 20 years as chief of staff to Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. Taking her place is Robert Marcus, who previously worked at the Signal Group, a D.C.-based public relations firm.

Rebekah Hoshiko is the new communications director for Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark. She’s a former deputy press secretary at the House Natural Resources Committee.

Newly elected Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., hired Brandon VerVelde as his communications director. VerVelde previously was press secretary for the House Science Committee. Armstrong also named Darrell Nitschke as a western field director. Nitschke previously served as executive secretary and director of administration for the North Dakota Public Service Commission. Jeff Rustvang has left the U.S. Beet Sugar Association, where he was government affairs manager, to take a position on Amstrong's staff. The North Dakota State grad previously worked as a legislative correspondent for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., focusing on issues relating to agriculture, transportation and trade.

Armstrong’s predecessor, Kevin Cramer, has named the communications director in his Senate office. Jake Wilkins assumes that job following a stint as the communications director for the North Dakota Republican Party. Wilkins also spent time in the press office at the Department of Agriculture.

Two new staffers have joined the leadership team at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. Marneé Banks, previously communications director for Sen. Jon Tester, will take over as chief communications officer in its Washington, D.C. headquarters, and Madeleine West, most recently director for parks, wildlife, and lands at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, will oversee four field representatives as deputy director of Western lands out of Denver.

Thom Petersen, government relations director for the Minnesota Farmers Union, was named commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in the administration of Tim Walz, the former Democratic congressman who was sworn in as governor earlier this week. Petersen succeeds Dave Frederickson, who held the office since 2011.

Former Federal Reserve economist Nellie Liang has withdrawn her name from consideration to be a member of the Fed’s board of governors. President Donald Trump nominated the Democrat to serve on the board last year. A White House spokesperson told Reuters the administration supported her nomination and believes Liang, who favors strong regulations on banks, would have made a good governor.

Agriculture Future of America is welcoming Camille Abrams, senior vice president of finance, energy, processing and food ingredients at CHS Inc., to its board of directors. Abrams was elected during the AFA board’s November meeting. Prior to joining CHS in 2012, Abrams, a certified public accountant, held numerous financial reporting and management positions with Lawson Software Inc., Xcel Energy and others.

The Senate last week confirmed Mary Bridget Neumayr as a member of the Council on Environmental Quality and Alexandra Dunn and William McIntosh as assistant administrators of the EPA. Senate Environment and Public Works Chair John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said the trio are “well qualified and uniquely experienced for the role they have been nominated.”

Jim Knutzon has assumed leadership of the food and agriculture division at SCS Global Services. Knutzon spent a decade at SCS before leaving to become president and CEO of Farm Fresh Direct LLC. He rejoined SCS as a vice president in 2016 upon his retirement from Farm Fresh. SCS calls Knutzon a “sustainable-agricultural veteran” who’s been instrumental in shaping SCS’ service offerings for more than three decades.

Sarah Tveidt was named director of Aimpoint Research. The South Dakota State alum previously served as communications director for the South Dakota Soybean Research & Promotion Council and the South Dakota Soybean Association for the past eight years. Aimpoint bills itself as a global leader in market research and competitive intelligence.

The North Dakota ag community is mourning the death of Dale Ihry, the executive director of the state Corn Growers Association, who passed away Jan. 3. Ihry, who was 58, had been hospitalized recently with an autoimmune disease that attacked his lungs. Ihry had retired in October 2015 from a lengthy career with the USDA Farm Service Agency and immediately took his job with the corn growers. “The corn family has lost an incredible mind, determined advocate and dear friend to all he met,” said Kevin Skunes, president of the National Corn Growers Association.

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