President Bush today nominated Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns (R) to be his new agriculture secretary, turning to a son of Iowa dairy farmers and a man he called "an experienced public servant from America's agricultural heartland" to replace the departing Ann M. Veneman.
In an announcement at the White House, Bush hailed Johanns as "a faithful friend of America's farmers and ranchers." The nomination is subject to confirmation by the Senate.
_____Bush Nominates Johanns_____
Video: President Bush nominated Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns to succeed Ann M. Veneman as agriculture secretary.
Johanns, 54, is serving in his second term as governor. The former Democrat previously served as mayor of Lincoln.
Bush also effusively praised Veneman, the first woman to serve as agriculture secretary, who announced her resignation from the Cabinet on Nov. 15.
Other possible replacements for Veneman who had been mentioned included Allen Johnson, chief White House agricultural trade negotiator, and Chuck Connor, agricultural adviser to the president. Two Texans, former congressman Larry Combest (R) and Rep. Charles W. Stenholm (D), also were mentioned as potential candidates.
Johanns has been considered a possible challenger to Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson (D), a freshman who is up for reelection in 2006.
Nebraska's lieutenant governor, Dave Heineman (R), is to serve the remaining two years of Johanns's term.
Bush said Johanns has been a national leader on drought relief and a strong proponent of alternative energy sources such as ethanol and biodiesel. As head of a department of 113,000 employees, Johanns will be "a champion of the farmers and ranchers who feed America and the world beyond," Bush said.
In his second term, Bush said, he plans to continue policies that are "pro-growth, pro-jobs and pro-farmer" and will keep working to open foreign markets to U.S. agricultural products.
Johanns said in brief remarks after Bush's introduction that his agricultural background has done much "to define who I am as a person." He said one of his campaign messages was that "after growing up on a dairy farm . . . everything in life seemed easy after that."
Johanns hailed the Bush administration's agricultural policies as having "strengthened America's food and ag system for the benefit of farmers and ranchers, rural communities, the environment and the American consumer."
Johanns took office as Nebraska governor in January 1999 and was reelected in 2002, becoming the first Republican governor to win a second term in the state since 1956. He began his political career as a Democrat but switched parties in 1988. Three years later he was elected Lincoln mayor and was reelected without opposition in 1995.
According to his Web site, his top priorities as governor have included property tax relief, reducing the size of the state government and building Nebraska's economy. He has been a strong advocate for Nebraska's agricultural producers -- the state is America's fourth-largest exporter of agricultural products -- and he has led trade missions to countries such as Japan, China, Taiwan, Australia, South Korea and Brazil.
Johanns has come under criticism from civil liberties groups, however, for official actions that they said promoted conservative Christian beliefs.
In May 1999, he signed a proclamation declaring a "March for Jesus Day," and he later endorsed a "Back to the Bible Day" in honor of a fundamentalist Christian group in Nebraska. But he refused to sign a proclamation honoring "Earth Religion Awareness Day," an event organized by the Wiccan church. The church practices witchcraft as part of a pagan religion that U.S. federal courts have said is protected under the First Amendment.
In explaining his refusal to declare the Earth Religion day, Johanns told reporters he would not sign "something that I personally disagree with."
The American Civil Liberties Union criticized Johanns's position, and an official of the group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the governor was "picking one religion over another as a government official."