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New chairs on the way for Senate and House Agriculture panels

Southerners could lead both of the Agriculture committees in Congress as a result of Tuesday’s general election, which trimmed the majorities Republicans hold in the Senate and Democrats hold in the House. Rep. David Scott of Georgia was first in seniority to succeed chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota on the House Agriculture Committee, and Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas was in line to chair the Senate panel.

The Agriculture chairs and the minority-party leaders on the committees often decide the final terms of legislation drafted by their committees. Disputes over farm policy tend to run along regional lines, so it is an advantage to have an advocate among the “four corners,” as the leaders are known. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow is the senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Republicans have three candidates for their top spot.

Peterson, a conservative Democrat who voted against impeaching President Trump, lost his race for a 16th term in the House to Republican Michelle Fischbach, a former lieutenant governor of Minnesota, who was endorsed by Trump. House Democrats tend to follow seniority in choosing committee chairs. Next after Scott in seniority are Reps. Jim Costa of California and Marcia Fudge of Ohio. Scott and Costa, like Peterson, are members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition. Fudge is one of the leading advocates in Congress for public nutrition programs such as SNAP.

Boozman, considered a consensus builder, was tagged weeks ago as the likely successor to Senate Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts, who is retiring after four terms. Roberts is the only person to have chaired both the House and Senate committees.

Besides Peterson, one other Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, first-term Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico, was defeated on Tuesday. Two other committee Democrats — T.J. Cox of California and Anthony Brindisi of New York — trailed as vote counting continued into Wednesday. Eight other races were undecided, but the incumbents, seven Democrats and one Republican, led in all of them.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia was the only one of six members of the Senate Agriculture Committee not to win re-election outright on Tuesday. The wealthy Republican executive, who was appointed to her seat in late 2019 and took office in January, will face Democrat Raphael Warnock in a runoff on Jan. 5. Three Senate races were too close to call on Wednesday, but Republicans seemed likely to continue in the majority. They were assured of 48 seats and led in two of the undecided races.

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