Peterson loss prompts scramble for House Agriculture chair

Peterson loss prompts scramble for House Agriculture chair
© Greg Nash

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 Peterson Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Six ways to visualize a divided America On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 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 ScottBiden faces challenge with Democrats on infrastructure package Civil rights lawyer announces bid for Texas attorney general Lawmakers, activists remember civil rights icons to mark 'Bloody Sunday' 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 CostaBiden waiving sanctions for Nord Stream 2 pipeline firm: report On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Rural Democrats urge protections from tax increases for family farms MORE (Calif.) and Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeOn The Money: Yellen, Powell brush off inflation fears | Fed keeps rates steady, upgrades growth projections Hillary Clinton backs Shontel Brown in Ohio congressional race New Mexico Democrat Stansbury sworn into Haaland's old seat 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 BidenChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report OVERNIGHT ENERGY:  EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees |  Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior | Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management saw messaging failures, understaffing during pandemic Poll: Majority back blanket student loan forgiveness 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 TrumpChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report Kim says North Korea needs to be 'prepared' for 'confrontation' with US Ex-Colorado GOP chair accused of stealing more than 0K from pro-Trump PAC 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.