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Harkin: Johanns approached farm policy with an 'open mind'

Agriculture.com Staff 09/20/2007 @ 9:32am

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa, is a political activist who recently hosted Democratic presidential candidates at his annual "Steak Fry." And he's been a frequent critic of the Bush administration.

But when Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced his resignation Thursday to enter the political fray in Nebraska's 2008, Harkin had only good things to say about the former Nebraska governor who grew up on an Iowa dairy farm.

"I've always had a good working relationship with Mike Johanns," Harkin told reporters Thursday.

"I credit him with having an open mind," Harkin said. A key issue for Harkin was the conservation security program, which Harkin introduced into the 2002 farm bill. "The administration and the Republican Congress have done everything they can to gut it and kill it."

But after Johanns held a series of listening sessions on the farm bill around the nation, the Agriculture Secretary told Harkin of strong support for the CSP among farmers. Harkin cited that as an example of Johanns "being willing to change his views on things if he gets different information."

Harkin also praised Johanns for writing his own draft of a farm bill last winter for Congress to consider.

"Not everybody liked it, but at least it had some elements of reform in it that got the debate going," Harkin said.

Although some farm groups and members of his own party in the Senate were saying Johanns was leaving at a bad time with the farm bill still not completed in Congress, Harkin disagreed.

He said that the new acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner has already been very involved in the process and "has a great deal of confidence among folks on both sides of the aisle, quite frankly."

Harkin didn't go so far as to endorse Johanns' candidacy for the Senate in Nebraska, of course. He pointed out that Johanns will face a crowded field in that state's Republican primary, which will include former Omaha mayor and Congressman Hal Daub. And Harkin said, "I already have" encouraged former Senator Bob Kerrey to enter that race on the Democratic side.

The bottom line on Johanns from Harkin: "I always wish him well in the future. I don't know that I wish him well in this immediate endeavor."

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa, is a political activist who recently hosted Democratic presidential candidates at his annual "Steak Fry." And he's been a frequent critic of the Bush administration.

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