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Candidates for Agriculture Secretary

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Kathleen Sebelius

Current job: Governor of Kansas.

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Credentials: Eight years in the Kansas legislature; two terms as state insurance commissioner; now in her second and final term as governor. Served as chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association, a group Bill Clinton once led. Gave the Democratic response in January to President Bush's last State of the Union address.

What she offers: Sebelius, 60, is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party and is well regarded for her leadership abilities. Time magazine in 2005 named her one of the nation's five best governors. She has been a strong advocate for children's health issues in her state, activity that is seen as an asset since the USDA's largest and fastest-growing programs are for federally subsidized nutrition programs for infants and children.

Vetting: Sebelius has no Washington experience, and her knowledge of agricultural issues is limited to those she has confronted as governor of an agriculturally rich state.

Quote: "In a state like Kansas, where over 20 percent of our jobs and economy involves agriculture and the land, changes in the climate and atmosphere can be devastating. Less water and hotter temperatures will result in fewer crops and less production, and that affects our state, the country and the world."

Charles W. Stenholm

Current job: Lobbyist and senior policy adviser at Washington-based agricultural law firm Olsson Frank Weeda.

Credentials: Member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 13 terms, from 1979 to 2005, and former ranking Democratic member of the Agriculture Committee. Graduated from Texas Tech University with bachelor's and master's degrees in agriculture education. Operated a cotton farm near Abilene, Tex., for several years.

What he offers: Stenholm, 70, has extensive experience shaping agricultural policy in Congress and a working knowledge of farming operations.

Vetting: Was an instrumental player in the 2002 farm bill, which has been criticized for including lucrative deals for large farming interests. His work as a lobbyist on agricultural issues, including the horse-meat industry, could be an obstacle because Obama has vowed to reduce lobbyist influence in his administration.

Quote: "The so-called world market is not a free market by anyone's definition. As long as you have Europeans subsidizing wheat exports, and marketing boards in Canada, you're going to see continued market influence by governments. We have the most efficient farmers in the world, but most of them can't compete with government-imposed prices overseas."

Dennis Wolff

Current job: Pennsylvania agriculture secretary.

Credentials: A sixth-generation dairy farmer who owns Pen-Col Farms, a 600-acre dairy cattle operation. Serves as a board member of the Pennsylvania Dairy Stakeholders and on the university board of trustees at Penn State. Successfully pushed for a state law that deals with water-quality issues and helps to result conflicts between farmers and local communities.

What he offers: Wolff, 57, has firsthand experience running a farm and managing a government agriculture department. In Pennsylvania, he has expanded farmers markets, which Obama wants to see grow nationally.

Vetting: His political experience is limited, primarily to the three years in his current post in a state with great agricultural challenges. He is viewed by some small farmers as being too supportive of larger, corporate farms.

Quote: "Food safety is a top priority for ensuring public health. From farm fields to the dinner plate, every participant involved in the supply chain plays a key role in the food production and safety process -- from producers and processors to state and federal agencies to consumers preparing food at home."

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