The whirlwind 2020 election cycle brought new names to some of the largest sorghum-producing districts in the nation.
Instead of a 2020 Person of the Year, maybe the Time magazine should have a word of the year: unprecedented.
The coronavirus pandemic that took the world by storm in early 2020 has seemed to permeate every aspect of life, including the 2020 elections.
From raucous debates, to candidates hosting Zoom fundraisers and record-shattering voter turnout across the country, the 2020 election cycle was like one never seen before.
The whirlwind election cycle brought changes in our nation’s capital, but as lawsuits begin to arise in battleground states, we are left uncertain about the full layout of our executive and legislative branches of government.
At the time of publication, former Vice President Joe Biden has been declared the winner in the presidential election, and the Trump campaign has brought forward litigation in key states. There will be a few new names on Capitol Hill, but Congress appears to remain split with a Democratic House and a Republican Senate even though the Senate will not be fully known until January 2021 due to runoffs in both Georgia Senate races. Congressional leadership will unfold in the next few months, showing America the faces of the 117th Congress.
As America is preparing to transition to a Democratic Administration with Joe Biden, there are many unknowns for agriculture. While Biden has promoted a plan to strengthen rural America and spoke about agriculture’s role in mitigating climate change, the former Vice President’s exact plans on implementing these changes are largely unknown. Biden will begin electing members of his Cabinet within the next few months, and these choices will help our industry determine the direction the new Administration will take on agriculture policy in the next four years. Due to a confirmation required in a Republican Senate, those appointed to these positions are likely to be less progressive candidates.
A more known portion of Biden’s plan is his position on infrastructure, and this issue is one expected to create consensus between a divided House and Senate. An infrastructure package with a $1+ trillion price tag is expected in 2021 that could have major beneficial provisions to improve how agricultural products are moved across the U.S. and exported to other countries.
Although Biden has big plans and a Damocratic-majority in the House to support him, a Rebuplican Senate will likely serve as a stopgap for some of the more drastic legislative ideas. While climate and sustainability are expected to continue to progress in legislation, this is more likely to manifest in incentive-based conservation practices rather than in drastic climate reform based in regulations. A split Senate and House forces more bipartisan negotiation between the two parties with the potential for either more moderate legislation moving forward or very little movement at all if the two groups continue their struggle to reach consensus on a number of large issues.
If the early results are wrong and Donald Trump maintains his presidency, we expect similar tendencies as his first four years in office, continuing the trend of policy focused on supporting rural America and the American farmer.
Sorghum country will have new representation in this Congress with new names taking over some of the largest sorghum-producing states and districts. In the Senate, Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS) will be moving to a new office after winning a hard-fought election to take the seat of long-time friend to agriculture, Sen. Pat Roberts (R), who will retire at the end of 2020. Roberts is currently serving as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and his retirement opens the door for a new Member to fill that role, likely Sen. John Boozman (R-AR). We will also see Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) transitioning from the House to the Senate, and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) taking the place of Sen. Cory Gradner (R).
In the House, Tracey Mann (R-KS) has taken the reins of the Big First in Kansas, the district producing the most sorghum acres in the U.S. Also in Kansas, Jake LaTurner, who defeated Rep. Steve Watkins (R) in the primary, was elected to Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District. Blue Dog incumbents and 2018 freshman Members of the House, Kendra Horn (D-OK) and Xochtil Torres Small (D-NM) have been defeated. Stephanie Bice (R) will represent Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District, while Yvette Herrell (R) will represent New Mexico’s 2nd.
The winds of change were also felt in two large agricultural districts in West Texas with the election of former White House doctor Ronnie Jackson (R) in District 13 and August Pfluger (R) in District 11. Jackson and Pfluger will be taking the reins from Rep. Mac Thornberry (R) and Rep. Michael Conaway (R), respectively. Thornberry and Conaway both made the decision to retire this year after a combined 42 years of service in the House. Conaway has served as both the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Agriculture and has been a friend to the sorghum industry and agriculture producers across the nation throughout his tenure in Congress. National Sorghum Producers appreciates his leadership on the committee, and wishes him the best in his retirement.
The seismic event for agriculture on election evening was the loss of Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture Collin Peterson (D-MN) to Michelle Fischbach (R-MN). Peterson has served in the House for nearly 30 years and had a long standing precedent as the Blue Dog voice on the House Agriculture Committee and a fierce advocate for agriculture throughout his tenure. His leadership will be sorely missed.
Peterson’s loss and the retirement of Ranking Member Michael Conaway (R-TX) open the doors to new leadership for both parties in the committee. Rep. David Scott (D-GA) has seniority to take the Chair, but other names such as Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Filemon Vela (D-TX) and Jim Costa (D-CA) have also been discussed. For Ranking Member, Rep. G.T. Thompson (R-PA) seems to be the front runner, while Reps. Rick Crawford (R-AR) and Austin Scott (R-GA) have also been mentioned to fill the role. While many have speculated on who will step into these roles, it is still unknown who the new Chair(wo)man and Ranking Member will be.
While it is challenging to go to press with unknowns still existing, these are unprecedented times, and the show must and will go on. The wonderful thing about our democratic republic is our country has been transitioning power for the last 200+ years, and we pray it continues for a couple hundred more.
Editor’s Note: Results described in this article are reflected as of Nov. 8, 2020.
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2020 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine the Capitol Hill department.