December 3, 2008

Down to the Wire
The empty chairs in Obama's cabinet are getting fewer and fewer. The ones that are left - Labor, Housing and Urban Development, US Trade Representative and EPA Administrator - all have names attached. In the case of the EPA, it looks like Lisa Jackson, the head of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, is likely to get the nod. Read this to see why it should make you happy. And what, pray tell, is the one major cabinet position that's not on the above list? That's right, foodies. Whither the USDA?

This is leading to near panic in some circles. Almost laughably, rumors are circulating that hometown Pennsie boy Dennis "our rBST lips are sealed" Wolff (i.e. current head of the PA Agriculture Department) is the man. Other rumors say there's no chance he'll get the gig, no matter how nicely Ed Rendell asks (maybe Rendell just wants him out of Harrisburg). One good piece of news is that the worst candidate, House representative Collin "I'm the Farm Lobby's Best Buddy" Peterson (D-Minn), has apparently taken himself out of the running. It's worth noting that there's a long tradition in politics of withdrawing one's name from consideration once it has become clear that one will not, in fact, get the job.

But whatever the reason, it's all to the good. That Collin is a bad, bad man, ag-wise. I would guess it's because of the extra "l", but Tom Philpott tells us really why. According to Philpott, at one point it was going to be either Peterson or the Democratic House member from South Dakota Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin. Herseth-Sandlin is a far more moderate choice (she tends to be categorized as "Not So Bad" by the progressive food policy folks which is to say she's a "radical" by Farm Lobby standards) and this latest news would suggest that Herseth-Sandlin is going to get it.

But then up comes the name of former GOP House member Jim Leach as someone who has gone from longshot to likely. What's interesting about him is that, based on his legislative record, he's not a farm policy guy (his specialty was banking and foreign policy - he didn't even have a seat on the Agriculture Committee). While he used to be a farmer and he is from Iowa, from a policy perspective he's sort of an outsider, perhaps even a bit of a blank slate to both the Farm Lobby as well as to the progressives. Anyway, it's all making my head spin. But I'm betting a guy like Leach or Herseth-Sandlin (see here for a bit more info on her), that is to say a moderate, will get the job in the end. While Obama has made it clear he's at least sympathetic to the so-called second Green Revolution of GMOs, I don't think he's prepared to throw his lot in totally with the farm lobby. Given how we're running out of seats to give away, I think we'll find out soon enough.

[Disappointing Update:] Jill at La Vida Locavore points to a WaPo article that the shortlist is different / worse than suspected. rBST man Dennis Wolff is still on it. As is former House Ag Committee Chair, current farm lobbyist Charlie Stenholm. Herseth-Sandlin isn't on the WaPo list. But Kathleen Sibelius, governor of Kansas (and formerly on Obama's veep shortlist), is. It's Sibelius or bust, I guess.

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