Rep. Salazar possible ag secretary pick | TSLN.com

Rep. Salazar possible ag secretary pick

Jerry Hagstrom, DTN Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (DTN) – President-elect Barack Obama is considering nominating two middle-of-the-road Hispanic, Western U.S. congressmen to the positions of agriculture secretary and U.S. trade representative.

Rep. John Salazar, D-CO, is under consideration for agriculture secretary, and Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-CA, is under consideration as trade representative.

If nominated and confirmed, Salazar would be the first Hispanic agriculture secretary. His brother, Ken Salazar, is a U.S. senator from Colorado.

In response to a request for comment from the Denver Post Wednesday, Salazar said, “I am humbled that I may be under consideration as a possible nominee for secretary of agriculture. Should President-elect Obama honor me with a nomination to Agriculture, I would certainly consider it. However, at this time, I am continuing my work on behalf of my constituents in the 3rd Congressional District and preparing for the many difficult challenges facing the 111th Congress.”

Salazar told the Denver Post that he had talked to the Obama transition team, but has not been interviewed by them. The newspaper reported that he also said, “I’ve lived agriculture, and I sleep agriculture. I certainly want to make sure that this country continues to be able to produce a safe food supply. It would be a sad day in America if when we ever have to depend on other countries to produce our food.”

A potato seed farmer and cattle rancher on Colorado’s Western Slope, Salazar in 2004 won an open seat in a district that had been held by Republican Scott McInnis for six terms. Parts of the district have been occupied by Spanish-speaking people for 350 years, but it also includes the city of Pueblo and the ski resort town of Vail. According to the Almanac of American Politics, Salazar emphasized his farm background rather than his Hispanic heritage in his first race. In Congress, he has also expressed concerns about government spending levels.

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Salazar was elected to a third term in November. He serves on the House Agriculture Committee and played a role in the 2008 farm bill by insisting on more aid for fruit and vegetable growers and for renewable fuels research. He also serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Salazar, 55, grew up on a ranch that has been in the family since 1850. It is located far from Denver in the San Luis Valley, one of the most beautiful but poorest areas of Colorado. According to his congressional biography, he shared a bedroom with five siblings, with no running water or electricity. After graduating from high school, he served in the Army, got a business degree from Adams State College and developed a successful seed potato farming operation. While his brother became involved in politics, serving as Colorado’s attorney general before being elected to the Senate, John Salazar stuck to farming and ranching, and when developers tried to buy up water rights, he became an advocate for farmers’ water rights. He served one term in the Colorado House of Representatives before running for U.S. Congress.

During the farm bill debate, Salazar told a National Farmers Union audience that the farm bill had to be written on a bipartisan basis because “there are too few of us to divide ourselves along partisan lines and partisan bickering.”

A Republican commodity lobbyist said Wednesday that Salazar “would be incredible,” a “great pick.” The lobbyist added that Salazar is “respected on both sides of the aisle, and fair.”

Meanwhile, sources close to Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said she is not interested in the agriculture secretary post. Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who has been frequently mentioned as a likely secretary, last week told the Des Moines Register that the Obama transition team had not contacted him about the USDA position or any other position in the administration.

Becerra, a 50-year-old Stanford graduate, represents the area of Los Angeles that includes Dodgers Stadium. About 70 percent of his constituents are Hispanic, but as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade legislation, he has showed an interest in issues far beyond his district.

Congress Daily, a Washington insider publication, said Dec. 3 that Becerra is seen as a middle-of-the-road pick on trade policy, someone who could appeal to both business and labor groups. Becerra voted against the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement in 2005, but helped lead the effort on behalf of Democratic leadership in support of the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement in 2007, Congress Daily said.

jerry hagstrom can be reached at jerry.hagstrom@dtn.com