"Toms" top next ag secretary list

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Two weeks have passed since Barack Obama won the presidential race. And for agriculture, the speculation about who would take over the reigns at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is brewing.

Ironically many "Toms" are on the the list. Some of the top names include former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, National Farmers Union Tom Buis, and former Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle from South Dakota and former Texas representative Charlie Stenholm.

Mark Maslyn, executive director of public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said he expects the next secretary to be one who has held an elected office. If true, this rules out Buis.

Obama promised during the campaign against appointing lobbyists for key appointments. This narrow the list even further. Stenholm lost his election after Republicans redistricted lines in 2006 and since has lobbied for livestock groups against ethanol subsidies.

Vilsack remains maybe one of the safest bets for the job. Even though he's from Iowa, he does not have the stronger rural background as many do. Vilsack tried for a run at the Democratic ticket himself before backing down after cash dried up. His early support of Sen. Hillary Clinton is not expected to impact whether he ends up receiving the job.

Another name includes current House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson from Minnesota which would toss up control in the House and fellow House Agriculture Committee member Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D. Herseth was recently elected as one of the top leaders of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative Democrats who often vote across party lines.

Often the talked about names for positions don't end up making the final cut. This is very true in recent secretaries as no one expected a Nebraska governor or former North Dakota governor to take control of USDA.

During President Bush's tenure three secretaries filled the position and each brought a very different feel to the post. Former Ag Secretary Ann Veneman came to office at the start of Bush's first term. She hailed from California and fought against the 2002 Farm Bill and wanted complete reform.

Secretary Mike Johanns, Nebraska's former governor and newly elected U.S. Senator, brought a friendly face to farmers and was well-received by the farming community and Congress. He went and listened to farmers in hundreds of listening sessions in preparation of the 2008 Farm Bill.

Current Secretary Ed Schafer has had an uphill battle with fighting for a farm bill the President didn't like as well as meat packing plant scandals and a fledgling Doha Round. In many ways, Schafer was a lame duck in Bush's final year on the job, but didn't ruffle feathers as Veneman did during her time as secretary.

Time will tell who will come to USDA in the next few months.

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