Agricultural policy, at least from the standpoint from the U.S. House of Representatives, is likely to shift to a much more urban perspective with a new House Agriculture Committee chairman, said Ron Elving, senior Washington editor, National Public Radio (NPR).
Elving, who spoke on March 24 during the Annual Meat Conference, said while the present committee chairman, Rep. David Scott, and his predecessor as chairman, Rep. Collin Peterson, are both members of the Democratic Party, their backgrounds and priorities are quite different and those differences could become evident in the new session of Congress.
The defeat of Collin Peterson
Peterson was a longtime leader in the committee, having steadily served as either the chairman or the ranking member since 2005, depending on which party had control of the House.
“He was a very well-known commodity in western Minnesota, with some deep roots in the farm community, and somebody that everyone had become comfortable with over a period of time. That’s not to say there weren’t differences, but people had become comfortable with Collin,” said Elving.
When Peterson lost his congressional seat to Republican challenger Michelle Fischbach, it was a surprise to many, Elving said. But considering the current political climate, maybe it should not be so surprising.
“He fell victim to a change that is happening in agricultural America and the more sparsely populated parts of the country where it is increasingly more difficult to be a Democrat,” said Elving.
“In Collin Peterson’s case, the change that has come over the voter in these parts of the country in recent is that the Democratic Party really has left them behind. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party as it was called, and I think it still is officially called that in Minnesota, had ceased to be interested in farms. And to some degree they cease to be interested in labor and become a party of metropolitan areas and social issues, and things of that nature.”
Chairman David Scott a ‘very different Democrat’
Scott started his tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2003, and he has been a mainstay of the agriculture committee since he was first elected.
As the senior Democratic member of that committee, Scott moved into the chairmanship once Peterson left the House.
“David Scott is very different Democrat (when compared to Peterson) and very different profile from what has long prevailed on the agriculture committee,” said Elving.
Scott comes from metropolitan Atlanta, and represents part of that city and surrounding suburban areas.
“That is a very different set of priorities,” said Elving. “He is someone who I think has worked well with (agriculture committee members) who are from those sparsely populated districts, but he does represent the new Democratic Party. And he does represent where the party has been moving, so we are going to see more emphasis on issues that affect his constituents. His constituents are the new Democratic party constituency and … also those with more metropolitan concerns,” said Elving.
Those constituents’ concerns with food are “pretty straightforward,” Elving said. To them, the concerns are more about “the obtaining of food in the city,” as opposed to the actual production and processing of food.
“They are very much the customers of retail. They are very much the people who are providing the market, and this is the future, and we see it arriving kind of unexpectedly right now in this 117th Congress, but particularly in terms of that House leadership,” he said.