Congress initiates first female ag chair

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) replaces Sen. Tom Harkin as our nation’s chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Former Ag Chairman Harkin filled the vacant Health, Labor, Education and Pension Committee chair seat, left vacant after the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy.

This is another first for Lincoln, who became the youngest female senator at age 38 in 1998.

Since 1825, the committee has been responsible for legislative oversight of all matters relating to the nation's agriculture industry, farming programs, forestry and logging, and legislation relating to nutrition and health.

Born and raised in Arkansas, Lincoln considers herself qualified both personally and professionally for the position. Lincoln is confident that her background as a farmer’s daughter and her service in Congress have prepared her for the role.

"The American farmer and rancher could not have a better friend in Washington than Senator Blanche Lincoln,” said Mark Williams, president, Southwest Council of Agribusiness.

Lincoln’s former committee involvement:
  • Served on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry since January 1999; has served as chairwoman of the subcommittee on Rural Revitalization, Conservation, Forestry and Credit
  • Served as chairwoman of the subcommittee on Production, Income Protection and Price Support
  • Played a role in the 2008 farm bill debate
  • Served as chair of Rural Outreach since 2005
  • Founded bipartisan Senate Hunger Caucus in 2004
  • Served on the House Committee on Agriculture from 1993-1995

Several high-profile individuals from a variety of industry segments have publicly declared their support of Lincoln, including American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman:

"Senator Lincoln has represented the interests of agriculture and rural America since her election to the House of Representatives as a moderate Democrat in 1992 and her election to the Senate in 1998. She has deep ties to farming and hails from a seventh-generation Arkansas farm family. We know she will continue to be a strong voice for our industry and will continue as a consistent leader on key Farm Bureau issues such as those that relate to farm policy, the environment and estate-tax reform."

Progressive Farmer ag reporter Chris Clayton said, “Lincoln is also likely going to be more skeptical of climate legislation because it may offer little benefit for rice growers or producers of other southern crops. She was quoted in mid-August saying Congress should just focus on a renewable-energy bill and drop the cap-and-trade emissions plan.”

Some believe her strong sentiments will definitely affect policy, including journalist Phil Brasher of the Des Moines Register, “Lincoln is as vigorous a proponent for large farms and livestock interests (think Arkansas-based Tyson Foods) as there is in Congress. Pair her with the panel’s senior Republican, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and you have a powerful one-two punch for the southern perspective on agricultural policy.”

Interestingly, Lincoln is up for re-election in 2010, causing others to consider her new position as a self-seeking political move. Will she prove herself as the authority on a number of significant issues? Only time will tell.

Do you think having a chairwoman will impact legislation? What, if any, influence will her home state have on her decision-making process? Should other congressional members have been considered?

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