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House Races Hold Wildcard
Wednesday, October 26, 2016 11:59AM CDT

By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Only seven members of the House Agriculture Committee and the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee have real races this election year, but the prospect for changes in membership on those committees in the next Congress is still great, depending on whether the House majority flips.

With Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton continuing to widen her lead against Republican Donald Trump, control of the House is now very much up in the air. Currently, the House makeup is 246 Republicans with 186 Democrats and three vacancies.

David Wasserman, the House editor for The Cook Political Report, wrote recently that "Our outlook remains a Democratic gain in the five-to-20-seat range, short of the 30 they need for a majority."

But still Wasserman says there are at least 37 competitive districts and lists only two districts as "tossups" for Democrats and 17 districts as "tossups" for Republicans.

At present, 25 Republicans and 19 Democrats serve on the House Agriculture Committee while six Republicans and four Democrats serve on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. The Democrats appear certain to pick up some seats in the House and possibly the majority, but even with a pickup of some seats it is likely that committee ratios will be reconfigured and the Republicans will lose some seats and the Democrats will gain some.

Three Republicans and two Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee are not listed as "solid" for re-election by The Cook Political Report:

-- Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., is in a "toss up" race against Democratic bee and almond farmer Michael Eggman.

-- Rep. Jackie Walorksi, R-Ind., is listed as a "likely Republican" winner in her race against Democrat Lynn Coleman.

-- Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill, is also listed as a "likely" winner against Democratic labor lawyer C.J. Baricevic.

-- Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., is in a "toss up" race against Republican Don Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general.

-- Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., is in a race listed as "leans Democrat," a level below "likely" in his race against Stewart Mills, the heir to Mills Fleet Farms.

The open seats of two House Agriculture Committee members who are leaving are also in play.

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., is challenging Republican Sen. John McCain. In Kirkpatrick's congressional district, Tom O'Halleran, a former Democratic state senator, is running against Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, a Republican. Cook lists that race as "leans Democrat."

The race to succeed Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., who is retiring, is listed as a "toss up." The candidates are John Faso, a former New York Republican General Assembly minority leader, and Zephyr Teachout, a law professor who recently moved to the district from Brooklyn.

In the race to succeed retiring Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Fla., Cook lists Republican urologist Neal Dunn as "the only assured GOP pickup" in this year's election. Graham defeated Republican Rep. Steve Southerland in 2014, but the district has since been reorganized, making it more Republican.

The most likely new member of the House Agriculture Committee is Roger Marshall, who won the Republican primary in the First District of Kansas, unseating Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who had been removed from the House Agriculture Committee after angering the leadership. Marshall does not have significant opposition in the general election.

Whether the Democrats gain the majority in the House or not, there are likely to be substantial changes to the membership.

House members do not consider membership on the House Agriculture Committee to be prestigious and, while senior members of the committee stay on it, more recently elected members tend to serve a term or two and then move on to a committee that they believe can do more for their states. When members change committees, they usually announce their new committee slots without mentioning that they have left the Agriculture committee.

One leadership position unlikely to change this year is Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who leads the Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee. Peterson comes from a majority Republican district and has had substantial opposition in the past, but this year Cook ranks Peterson as "solid" for reelection.

A key question for Democrats and for the agriculture community is what members will serve on Agriculture. Democrats from rural districts known as Blue Dogs used to vie for membership on the committee, but so many of those rural districts have turned Republican over the past decade that the Democratic leadership will have to turn to urban and suburban members to serve.

That means the new Democratic members are more likely to be interested in nutrition issues, healthy eating and even urban agriculture than in traditional commercial-scale production agriculture.

House Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee ranking member Jim McGovern, D-Mass., told DTN that he hopes there will be more members of the committee interested in nutrition in the next Congress.

McGovern said he has told Peterson to "be bold" in proposals for the next farm bill and not settle easily for compromises with Republicans. Peterson has already said that there are so many problems with low commodity prices that Congress should take up the farm bill in 2017 rather than 2018.

On the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, four Republicans including Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., the subcommittee chairman, and three Democrats are listed as "solid" for reelection.

Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., and David Young, R-Iowa, are listed as being in races that "lean Republican."

Yoder is running against Democrat Jay Sidie, an investment banker. Young's opponent is Iraqi war veteran Jim Mowrer.

Still there will be a significant change in leadership on that subcommittee.

House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Sam Farr, D-Calif., a longtime advocate for nutrition programs and the fruit and vegetable industry, is retiring

Jimmy Panetta, a retired Navy intelligence officer and deputy district attorney in Monterey County is running for Farr's seat and is listed by Cook as "solid" for election. He also is the son of Leon Panetta, a former House member who also served in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

Next in line on the subcommittee roster is Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., but she has already served as chairwoman of the subcommittee and is now the top Democrat on the Labor, Health, Human Services and Education Subcommittee. Next in line is Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., followed by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.

There is the possibility that Aderholt might take another assignment, and there has been speculation that he would challenge Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., for the chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee, which is being relinquished by Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., because he is term-limited.

But Frelinghuysen has more seniority than Aderholt, and Politico reported Monday that it is unlikely Aderholt would take the chair unless conservatives are ascendant after the election. Yoder is the next in line in seniority on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, followed by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., who is listed as "solid" for reelection.


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