20041202-6_w9w7921-515h.jpgI admit not knowing the name of the Agriculture Secretary. I learned recently, though, that there’s a farm bill wending its odd way through our national legislature. Doesn’t that sound like something our Agriculture Secretary ought to attend to? Actually, the farm bill affects us all, comes up for renewal every five years, and is entirely within the purview of the Agriculture Secretary.

George W Bush’s second Agriculture Secretary, Mike Johanns, was very involved, in a new way, in learning about Americans’ views about the farm bill:

The son of a dairy farmer, Johanns’s flagship initiative on farm policy was to travel the country listening to farmers and ranchers. His department held 52 forums in 48 states to gauge opinion on legislation, and Johanns personally attended about 20 of those meetings. By the end of the consultation process, USDA had elicited 4,000 comments. Speaking to his main constituents “on the tongue of the wagon,” as Johanns put it, was a popular move out on the wheat farms and cattle ranches, according to industry representatives, and important preparatory work for advancing new legislation.

“The problem with changing farm policy is that you’re up against very long-established and entrenched set of interests who don’t want the policy to change,” said Ralph Grossi, president of the American Farmland Trust. “The normal criticism of politicians is that they don’t listen — he went out and saw farmers. That added a lot of credibility to the positions [the administration] has taken on the farm bill.”

How much rich, creamy credibility was added to the Bush Administration’s positions by Mike Johanns’s listening? So much that he’s leaving Washington before the farm bill even passes the United States Senate. Why? He wants to run for the Senate seat Nebraskan Chuck Hagel is giving up next year.

“I’m getting back to Nebraska as quick as I can,” he said.

Is that responsible?

“It is completely irresponsible for the Secretary of Agriculture to leave his post right in the middle of negotiations in Congress over the next Farm Bill,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D), a senior member of the Agriculture Committee and one of several lawmakers to release statements condemning the resignation.

I don’t know much about the farm bill. As I pointed out, I didn’t even know the name of the Agriculture Secretary. But one thing I recognize: the rock-solid BushCheneyCo approach to government, and that is: Heckuva job.

Teddy Partridge

Teddy Partridge