President Bush yesterday nominated Rep. Edward Madigan (R-Ill.) to be his administration's new secretary of agriculture, an appointment that was hailed by lawmakers from both parties but denounced by some consumer and family farm groups.
Madigan, 55, is a well-respected and pragmatic legislator who has served in the House since 1973 and as the ranking GOP member of the Agriculture Committee for eight years. He played a decisive role in shaping the last two major farm bills to reduce overall government spending.
An influential voice in the moderate wing of the House GOP, Madigan is not expected to face substantial opposition when the Senate moves to confirm him.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said in a statement that he welcomes the Madigan nomination and would move quickly to consider the appointment.
House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) applauded the nomination and said he has "absolute confidence" in Madigan's ability.
Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) said Madigan "knows what farmers need, and just as important, he knows what they don't need."
In naming Madigan, Bush continued a recent trend toward appointing moderate GOP politicians to his Cabinet. Last month, he nominated former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander to head the Education Department and picked former representative Lynn Martin, another Illinois Republican, as secretary of labor.
Bush described Madigan as "a good friend" and "an outstanding member of Congress" who has "walked in the shoes of Illinois farmers."
In a brief appearance at Bush's side in the White House, Madigan promised to give "rural Americans a strong voice in the councils of government."
Though Madigan has long been a respected and influential member of the moderate House GOP wing, he suffered a stinging setback in 1989 when he lost a race for GOP whip. In an election that marked a turning point for House Republicans who favor a more ideological, confrontational approach with the Democratic majority, Madigan lost by two votes to Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
Madigan has been a key player in congressional action on agriculture. Last year, he engineered a bipartisan majority for an amendment giving the secretary of agriculture the authority to double reductions in feed grain loan rates. Five years earlier, he had defeated Democratic attempts to permit farmers a voting role in limiting production to raise prices, a key decision in the five-year farm authorization measure.
Madigan's record on farm issues was criticized yesterday by the National Family Farm Coalition. Characterizing Bush's first agriculture secretary, Clayton Yeutter as "secretary of agribusiness," coalition president Randolph Nodland said he expects "Madigan to follow a similar course."
Rick Hind, environmental program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, also criticized Madigan as being hostile to reducing pesticide and chemical use on American farms.
"He's outrageous, but it seems that it's a position that only outrageous people are appointed to," said Hind.
But Dave Lane, a spokesman for the American Farm Bureau Federation, hailed Madigan as an "excellent choice" and a person "who understands farmers and ranchers and the things they deal with."
Concern of another sort was raised by the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a gay group that lobbies on AIDs issues. Madigan's appointment could elevate conservative Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) to the ranking GOP slot on a key health subcommittee.
"Lesbian and gay Americans regard William Dannemeyer as a California Khomeini," said the group's executive director, Tim McFeeley.