Republicans on Nov. 2 rode a wave of popular discontent to victory in the midterm elections, seizing control of the House of Representatives and narrowing the Democrats’ majority in the Senate. The makeup of the congressional agriculture committees, particularly in the House, will be much different come January when the new Congress convenes and as those committees undertake their single most important legislative responsibility, drafting a new farm bill.
Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, lost her bid for reelection. No other member of the committee standing for reelection lost his or her contest. With Democrats retaining control of the Senate, Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said she was prepared to be chairman of the panel. “With the next farm bill right around the corner, I am ready once again to advocate for and strengthen this critical part of our economy for Michigan and our country,” Senator Stabenow said. Ms. Stabenow’s selection to head the committee was not assured as other Democrats on the committee were more senior including Tom Harkin of Iowa, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Max Baucus of Montana. At the same time, those Democrats already were chairmen of other high-powered committees and may not be interested in the agriculture committee chairmanship. Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska also has been mentioned as a possible chairman of the agriculture committee.
The elections were brutal to Democratic members of the House Committee on Agriculture. While Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the current chairman of the committee, coasted to an election victory, 14 Democratic members of the committee, fully half of the Democrats on the panel, lost their bids for reelection, and another Democrat, Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, lost his bid for election to the Senate. No Republican members of the agriculture committee standing for reelection lost their contests, and Congressman Jerry Moran of Kansas won his bid for election to the Senate. Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma currently is the ranking minority member of the agriculture committee and was considered the most likely person to succeed Mr. Peterson as chairman.