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First Black chairman of House Ag will fight climate change, rural-urban split

Rep. David Scott of Georgia soundly defeated a California rival in a vote among majority-party Democrats on Thursday to become the first Black chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Scott, who represents a suburban Atlanta district with 313 farms, pledged to tackle an array of issues, most prominently climate change and the rural-urban split, in the new session of Congress opening on Jan. 3.

With Scott’s election, three of the “four corners” of food and ag policy in Congress will be leading the House and Senate Agriculture committees for the first time. House Republicans voted on Thursday to make Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania their leader on House Agriculture. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas is expected to be the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, either as chairman or the so-called ranking member from the minority. Runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5 will decide if Republicans or Democrats control the Senate.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a former chairwoman and now the senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, will be the only veteran among the “four corners” in the new session.

“The fault lines dividing our rural and urban communities are running deep, and climate change is now threatening our nation’s food supply. As chairman, I will lead the fight to rise up and meet those challenges,” said Scott. In a statement, he said he would promote Democratic “priorities for trade, disaster aid, climate change, sustainable agriculture, SNAP, crop insurance, small family farms, specialty crops, and rural broadband.”

Scott, who has served on the Agriculture Committee since he was elected to the House in 2002, will succeed Chairman Collin Peterson, who was defeated for re-election. In Thursday’s vote among House Democrats, Scott beat Rep. Jim Costa of California, 144-83, reported The Hill. Scott was first in seniority on the committee after Peterson, with Costa second in line. Democrats often heed seniority when choosing committee chairs. Scott also had the advantage of being nominated by the party’s Steering Committee, composed of senior Democrats.

House Democrats re-elected Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts to chair the Rules Committee and chose Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of upstate New York to chair their campaign committee. McGovern and Maloney are members of the House Agriculture Committee.

“I have no doubt they are going to do a great job,” Peterson told reporters who asked about his expectations for the new leaders of the House committee. While he promoted a doubling of the Conservation Reserve to 50 million acres, Peterson said, “They [Scott and Thompson] will have to decide what to do.”

In a statement, Thompson said, “The challenges ahead of us are considerable, but we will continue to put farm families first and ensure our country has the most safe and affordable food supply chain on the planet.”

Groups speaking for cattle, corn, and dairy producers congratulated Scott and said the new chairman was experienced in the issues confronting farmers and ranchers. As the chairman of a House Agriculture subcommittee, Scott helped dairy farmers recover from a collapse in milk prices in 2009, said the National Milk Producers Federation. The National Corn Growers Association said Scott “has demonstrated strong support for the policies important to corn farmers.”

Like Peterson, Scott, who was born on a farm in South Carolina during segregation, is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats. Now 75, Scott founded an advertising company in Atlanta and served in the state House and Senate before running for Congress. He and Sonny Perdue served together in the Georgia Senate, and Scott spoke in support of Perdue during his Senate confirmation hearing to be President Trump’s agriculture secretary.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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