By Paul Lewis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 21, 2007
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns resigned yesterday to return to Nebraska, where Republican officials expect him to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Chuck Hagel (R).
Johanns's resignation, effective immediately, is the latest in a string of departures of senior Bush appointees as the administration heads toward its final year.
But the president made clear in an announcement yesterday that Johanns is being pulled back to his home state, where he was governor before becoming agriculture secretary in 2005.
Bush said Johanns had sought his advice about "serving the nation" in a different role. "And my answer was . . . I support you," Bush said. "If it's Mike's decision and Nebraska's choice, he would make an outstanding member of the United States Senate."
The president praised Johanns for laying the groundwork for the farm legislation currently before Congress.
But Johanns's departure drew criticism from Democrats who pointed out that he is leaving before that legislation is completed. His departure elicited a particularly strong response from Democrats in Nebraska.
"Unfortunately, the Secretary has turned his back on farmers and ranchers repeatedly, most recently walking away from a critical farm bill," said a statement from the state Democratic Party.
Johanns made no reference to the upcoming election in his resignation speech, stressing that his decision "has not been an easy one." However, asked in an interview if he would stand for Senate, he replied, "My intention is to go back to Nebraska and talk to people about that very thing."
Johanns's deputy, Chuck Connor, was named acting secretary.