Rep. Mike Conaway, who steered the House Agriculture Committee through passage of the 2018 farm bill, won't seek reelection in 2020 after eight terms serving a sprawling west Texas district dominated by oil, ranching and cotton.
Conaway scheduled a news conference for Wednesday in Midland, Texas, to announce his retirement, according to news reports confirmed by an Agri-Pulse. Conaway's spokeswoman said his staff would have no comment until after the news conference.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., announced in January that he would not seek reelection in 2020.
After Republicans lost the House in 2018, Conaway was relegated to being the committee's ranking Republican and lost much of his staff. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., is next in seniority.
Conaway was best known nationally for running the House Intelligence Committee's investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 election. The chairman at the time, Devin Nunes of California, had recused himself.
Conaway became chairman of House Agriculture in 2015 and quickly found himself at the center of battles over biotech food labeling as well as farm programs and nutrition policy. He also championed the cotton industry at a time when it was facing a steep downturn in global prices and ineligible for the Price Loss Coverage program created by the 2014 farm bill.
Conaway was unsuccessful in persuading then-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to make cotton eligible for PLC administratively but later worked with the Senate to get cotton added to the program as part of a congressional budget agreement in early 2018.
Conaway clashed repeatedly with the Senate Agriculture Committee's top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, first over biotech labeling and then over the cotton subsidies and finally the 2018 farm bill. Stabenow, with help from Roberts, fought off cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that Stabenow opposed, but Conaway ensured that the new bill wouldn't stop Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue from making cuts to SNAP administratively. Conaway also won provisions he wanted in the commodity title, including one to improve PLC yield data for farmers who had been hurt by droughts.
Conaway’s 11th district, which stretches west from near Fort Worth to the Midland-Odessa oil industry hub, ranks 87th nationwide in the value of its agricultural production and is the fifth largest ag district statewide. In 2017, the district accounted for $1.2 billion in agricultural sales, two-thirds of that from beef cattle, dairy and other livestock, according to USDA.
Conaway, who played high school football at Odessa Permian High School, made famous in the book and movie, "Friday Night Lights," became a certified public accountant and was chief financial officer in the 1980s for a company run by George W. Bush. Conaway was elected to the 11th district seat in 2004 when Bush won his second term.
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