The House Agriculture Committee will look very different when it convenes for the first time in the 116th Congress.
There's the obvious change of who will be sitting in the big chair as Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson regains leadership of the committee, the result of Democrats winning the House in the 2018 midterm elections. But that new majority is also made up of 10 freshman members and a dozen newcomers in all, nearly half the panel's 26 Democrats. By comparison, the 26-member Republican majority in the 115th Congress had just six freshmen.
With all these new faces on the panel, Peterson says he expects one of the freshmen — he didn't say which one — to end up chairing a subcommittee. At the same time, he has also pledged to give more authority to subcommittee chairs in hopes of building a roster of Democrats with farm policy expertise. The committee oversees key issues like agricultural production, marketing and stabilization of prices, commodity exchanges, rural development, crop insurance, farm credit, and agriculture research and extension services. That wide swath of authority potentially gives one of these new members an inside track to influence farm policy for years as the 2018 farm bill is implemented and discussions on the next bill begin.
Here's a look at some of the new members sitting on the House Agriculture Committee:
Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, represents the state’s 3rd district, primarily made up of southwestern rural counties along with Polk County, including Iowa’s capitol, Des Moines. “Agriculture is not only an economic driver and job creator in our state, but our Iowa farmers and producers feed people here at home and around the world,” she said. Axne won the district by grabbing 56 percent of the vote in Polk County, a 16-point advantage over Republican incumbent David Young’s 40 percent. This is critical, as she’ll have to convince the rest of her heavily rural district she’ll fight for key agriculture issues like ensuring trade agreements, opening new export markets, expanding rural broadband access and expanding biofuels.
Rep. Anthony Brindisi, a public school advocate from central New York, beat out incumbent Republican Claudia Tenney with 51 percent of the vote to represent the 22nd District. In 2016, Tenney won the district by 7 percentage points over Democratic challenger Kim Myers. New York’s 22nd district is classified as more than 50 percent rural. “I will work across the aisle to make sure our local farmers have the support they need to get a fair price for their goods, succeed financially, and make an honest living,” Brindisi said. A release announcing his appointment made specific reference to the district's dairy sector, which employs nearly 4,000 people and has an economic impact of $1.83 billion. Brindisi also plans to meet regularly with an agriculture advisory council to understand the challenges of farmers and rural New York communities.
California Democrat Salud Carbajal represents the state's 24th district along the Central Coast. The Marine Corps veteran is in his second term representing the district, but his first on the House Ag Committee. “This new post allows me to have a louder voice in fighting for the needs of our farmers and ranchers," Carbajal said. He also favors a robust nutrition assistance program that 16,000 Central Coast families rely on. “Salud represents some of the most productive fruit and vegetable land in the world and nearly 3,000 square miles of National Forest, not to mention almost 750,000 consumers," Peterson noted, adding that Carbajal's "perspective on specialty crop agriculture will be appreciated on the Ag Committee." A longtime advocate for the environment, an early action he took in Congress was introducing the California Clean Coast Act, which bans future offshore oil and gas drilling on California’s coast. He also is a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, which is working to mitigate climate change.
Rep. Josh Harder is a former venture capital executive and business teacher who defeated four-term Republican Jeff Denham in California’s 10th District. Like Carbajal and a couple of other California Democrats already on the committee, Harder represents a district with a wide array of ag production, specifically in specialty crops. In 2017, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties produced over $8.7 billion in agricultural commodities. “We feed the nation and much of the world," Harder said in a statement. "But we also have critical challenges that we must meet head on, beginning with sensible solutions to expand our water supply, better manage our existing water resources, and help our communities better prepare for droughts.” The sector also supports a third of all jobs in Stanislaus County, located just east of San Jose, Calif.
Another California Democrat new to the committee, TJ Cox, represents California’s 21st District, which is also made up of the Central Valley. He is a former engineer and businessman who narrowly defeated three-term Republican David Valadao, who had won the district by a 17 percent margin in 2016. The race was initially called in Valadao's favor, but according to the Los Angeles Times, the incumbent's 4,400-vote lead on election night gradually dwindled before mail-in and other ballots. Now, Cox becomes the fifth Golden State Democrat on the panel. “I’m honored to be named to this critical committee and ready to get to work on behalf of all our farmers and ranchers,” Cox said. He supports ending the so-called trade war, providing better resources for farmers and ranchers, and investing in rural communities.
Former newspaper reporter and global human resources executive Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., represents Minnesota’s 2nd congressional district just southeast of the Twin Cities. She knocked-off one-term Republican Jason Lewis, flipping the seat. Minnesota is the fifth largest agricultural state in the United States, and 75,000 farms contribute $19 billion to the nation’s economy each year. “As your representative, I will fight back against policies that harm our nation’s farmers — whether they come from Democrats or Republicans,” Craig wrote in a paid letter for a local Minnesota paper in August. She supports maintaining a strong energy title in the farm bill, fair trade, opening new markets, and lowering health care costs for farmers.
Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y., represents the 19th District in update New York. He defeated former committee member and incumbent Republican John Faso in November. “As a member of (this committee), I can advocate for key issues ranging from supporting our farmers to expanding rural broadband to improving our water infrastructure," Delgado noted in a statement. The district is home to more than 5,000 farms and over 8,000 farm operators. Almost 20 percent of the land is farmland. Delgado supports protecting small and medium-sized farms and said it is critical for them to market local and organically grown food to customers in New York City. He also supports protecting the environment and funding programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., a former national teacher of the year from Waterbury, beat Republican Manny Santos in a 55-44 race for the open seat to represent Connecticut's 5th District. This was an open seat after reports surfaced in August that former Rep. Elizabeth Etsy’s top aide questionably “abused” a staff member, causing Etsy to not seek re-election. The district is a mix of urban and rural area in the northwest and central parts of the state.
“As a member (of the ag committee), I will bring forth the voice of small family farmers, dairy farmers, conservationists, and all concerned with the future of agriculture and the protection of our waterways in the district,” she said. Hayes also wants to secure the future of food safety net programs like SNAP and school meal programs.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., represents Arizona’s 2nd District in the far southeast corner of the state. She previously represented Arizona’s 1st District from 2009-2011 and again from 2013-2017. She replaced Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who resigned to run for the Senate. Kirkpatrick is a strong advocate for protecting natural resources and mitigating climate change. According to her campaign website, she strongly supports development of alternative energy sources and reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. Other priorities atop her list include comprehensive immigration reform that secures the nation’s border and keeps families together. She recently introduced legislation that would allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, beneficiaries to work on Capitol Hill. After the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in 2011, Kirkpatrick has continued to advocate for stronger gun laws.
Washington Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier, a former pediatrician and EPA employee, represents Washington’s 8th District, located between Seattle and Spokane. Congresswoman Schrier will be the only member from the Northwest serving on the committee. “Finally, our region will have someone to speak up for our fruit, hay, and wheat farmers," she said. "I will also be able to work on policy related to food programs and making sure that our kids get the nutrition they need to stay healthy.” As a strong environmental advocate, she said she will fight any effort to reduce or eliminate air and water protections and also will promote alternative forms of clean energy. Her district also heavily depends on trade. Washington is the number-one apple-producing state, growing 64 percent of the nation's apples. The state's producers are also noted growers of wheat and potatoes.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., a former CIA operations officer, represents 10 counties in central Virginia’s 7th District. Spanberger is a supporter of industrial hemp and ending the ban on marijuana as a controlled substance. “Serving on the Agriculture Committee will be a privilege that I hope to use to the benefit of our district, focusing on agricultural policy to the benefit of our rural and agricultural communities,” Spanberger said. Food security issues will also be a top priority for her, along with protecting the environment. Spanberger also supports investments in alternative energy sources, with solar being one of them. Her campaign website notes Virginia's solar energy job growth soared 65 percent from 2015-2016 in Virginia, making the state one of the fastest growing job markets in the nation.
A first-time representative hailing from New Jersey, Rep. Jeff Van Drew replaces Republican Frank LoBiondo, who retired from the House at the conclusion of his 11th term. Van Drew represents the Garden state’s 2nd Congressional District, an area known for growing specialty crops such as blueberries, cranberries, tomatoes, corn and lettuce. “I am proud to have earned a seat on the committee that shapes our nation’s agricultural priorities. The Agriculture Committee was one of my top committee choices because it will give me the platform to be an even stronger leader for our hard-working farmers in South Jersey, " Van Drew said. He also has been a strong advocate for recreational and commercial fishing in the state, opposing offshore drilling.
Peterson also has several veteran members who had to get waivers to be on the committee. Most won appointments this year to “exclusive” committees such as Appropriations and Ways and Means. They include Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., Rep. Al Lawson, D-Fla., Rep. Tom O'Halleran, D-Ariz., and Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents Maine’s 1st District served from 2009 to 2012, is an organic farmer and small business owner who left the committee in 2012 to hold a seat on the Appropriations Committee.
The House Ag minority has not been named yet, but Ranking Member Mike Conaway, R-Tex., confirmed they will have 21 members on the committee and was “impressed” by the three incoming Republican freshmen.
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