By: Anne Thompson, Director, PAC and Political Strategy, National Corn Growers Association
There is a lot to unpack following this year’s election. While results may be trickling in for days to come, we are starting to have a clearer picture of what to expect as we move into the 117th session of Congress. As expected, the Democrats were able to hold onto the House of Representatives. To date, it appears that Republicans are poised to maintain a majority in the Senate (albeit with two races in Georgia potentially heading into a January 5th run-off). In all likelihood, it will take a healthy dose of bipartisanship to be effective for the next two years.
In addition to the dozens of new members of the Congress, there will also be new leadership in three of the four top positions on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) is expected to take the helm of the Senate Agriculture Committee as current Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) retires. Boozman is a thoughtful, pragmatic leader who understand the importance of expanded markets for U.S. agricultural products. Michigan’s own Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will continue in her role as Ranking Member of the Committee. Stabenow has been a stalwart for the ethanol industry and the role it plays in a cleaner fuel supply.
With the defeat of Collin Peterson (D-MN-7) on Tuesday, the Chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee was left wide open. Three candidates are vying for the top position: Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA-16), Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11), and Rep. David Scott (D-GA-13). Each of the three candidates would bring different perspectives and priorities to the helm. Both Rep. Costa and Rep. Scott are members of the Blue Dog caucus, the moderate wing of the party. Rep. Costa has been a champion for trade issues and was instrumental in the passage of USMCA. Rep. Scott has made addressing agriculture’s aging constituency and maintaining relevancy within the next generation a priority during his tenure on the committee. Rep. Fudge represents a more urban district and has a keen appreciation for the vital balance between the farm and nutrition programs.
Across the aisle, current Ranking Member Mike Conaway (R-TX-11) is hanging up his hat this cycle. Three candidates have their eye on replacing him: Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR-1), Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA-8), and Rep. GT Thompson (R-PA-15). Rep. Crawford has long been an advocate for opening Cuba’s market for U.S. agricultural exports, such as corn and corn products. Rep. Thompson would bring a focus on risk management tools through his experience as Chair of the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee. Rep. Scott has demonstrated success in providing disaster assistance for producers as a result of Hurricane Michael which wreaked havoc on his district in 2018.
With the departure of three of the top four positions on these two committees, a combined 86 years of experience and institutional knowledge of the legislative process will be going along with them. The agriculture community will have our work cut out for us in terms of educating new members and leadership and getting them up to speed on our policy priorities. The new makeup will further shift the delicate geographical balance of the committees towards the South and/or West.
Michigan will welcome two new members of the delegation next year. Representative-Elect Peter Meijer (R-MI-3) and Representative-Elect Lisa McClain (R-MI-10) were both endorsed in the general election by Michigan Corn Growers Association’s PAC Committee. Currently, the Michigan delegation has no representation on the House Agriculture Committee. As the rural/urban divide intensifies, Michigan’s rural constituency will be challenged to find new ways to share our message of how critical the agriculture economy is to the entire state. Grassroots outreach will be an important component to our success.
As we’ve experienced over the last two years, a divided Congress will create challenges in productivity. We’re hopeful, however, that Congress will receive the message sent by the electorate this year that they want to see bipartisanship at work. Once again, important topics will be on the table including climate change and infrastructure, and it won’t be long before we’re facing the next Farm Bill. NCGA, in close partnership with our state affiliates, will be prepared to offer thoughtful and science-based solutions to these issues.