WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2016 – “To the victor go the spoils” is by no means a new concept, but now rural voters are hoping to be the ones who reap the benefits of the recent election.

Donald Trump relied heavily on rural voters in key states for his victory, leading many to wonder what the new administration will do to maintain the support of the demographic. Now, someone close to the Trump team says not to worry, that there is real acknowledgement of the country’s rural voters in the team set to take over in January.

“I think there’s clear recognition that one of the chief reasons that Donald Trump is the president-elect and his opponent is not is because of those rural areas and a dramatic turnout,” said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

Because of that, Conner, who is rumored to be on the short list of candidates to be Trump’s agriculture secretary, said he expects the next administration will be “a strong advocate of our current food system.” Speaking at a POLITICO event Monday morning in Washington, Conner said he expects to see Trump’s ag secretary play a big role in his administration’s support for the country’s farmers and ranchers.

“To hear the (next) president of the United States say that he wants his secretary of agriculture to be a defender of (the food system), not criticize but defend that, again in the world we live in today -- that’s a remarkable policy statement,” Conner said. “I look forward to hearing that chief leader of farmers and ranchers in this country making those kind of declarative statements in a Trump administration.”

Expressing interest in helping rural America is one thing, but finding the policy vehicles to do so will be a completely different discussion. One area where that could happen is in the upcoming farm bill. The legislation will be written by Congress, but it will be implemented at Trump’s USDA, giving the administration a chance to reward its supporters in rural America.

Anne MacMillan, a former deputy chief of staff at USDA during the Obama administration, pointed out that the farm bill also has a rural development title. While that portion of the bill has typically taken a back seat to parts dealing with commodity and nutrition policy, she said it will be important to watch in discussions around the next legislation.

Outside of just the farm bill, she said some of Trump’s other policies could be worked to benefit ag and rural constituencies.

“This is the one place where I think it’s fantastic that rural America supported the Trump administration so strongly because there is an expectation that some of those populist ideals will come back to help these areas,” said MacMillan, currently a partner with Heather Podesta + Partners.

While many may see a Trump administration catering to rural voters, the administration’s transition effort has been slow to reach out in agricultural circles. Dale Moore, a former USDA staffer in the George W. Bush administration who is now the executive director for public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said he hasn’t heard much from team Trump.

“They haven’t reached out and said ‘we need your help,’ but I know a lot of us have been there and done that so if you need the help, don’t hesitate to holler. They haven’t hollered yet,” Moore said. When asked if by this time in the process he had heard from the Obama team eight years ago, Moore said yes.

Conner declined any comment when asked about his prospects for agriculture secretary or whether or not he was interested in the job. Eight years ago, Barack Obama, then the president-elect, tapped Tom Vilsack as his secretary of agriculture pick on Dec. 17, giving Trump until Saturday to meet or beat Obama’s timeline.


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