Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Bush taps Ed Schafer for ag secretary

BISMARCK - Former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer finally said "yes" to the Bush White House. President Bush announced Wednesday that he'd nominated Schafer as his next agriculture secretary, touting the ex-governor's farm-state roots and experience...

BISMARCK - Former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer finally said "yes" to the Bush White House.

President Bush announced Wednesday that he'd nominated Schafer as his next agriculture secretary, touting the ex-governor's farm-state roots and experience in government and business.

Looking more somber than most North Dakotans remember him, the former governor stood beside the president during the brief White House event, then said it was an honor to accept the nomination.

"I want to recognize the people of the great state of North Dakota. Throughout the years, they have supported, encouraged and nurtured me, and that has been tremendously uplifting," Schafer said during brief remarks.

He said he looked forward to working with "the dedicated, talented and loyal employees of the USDA" on the department's wide-ranging missions and programs.


Schafer, if confirmed, will replace former Secretary Mike Johanns, who resigned in September to run for the Senate in Nebraska. He would become the nation's 29th agriculture secretary. Johanns is a former Nebraska governor.

"At every stage of his career, Ed has shown wisdom, foresight and creativity," Bush said in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. "Those same qualities will make him a valuable member of my Cabinet and they will make him a trusted friend to America's farmers and ranchers. His passion for agriculture has deep roots."

Two terms

Schafer, 61, was governor for two terms, 1992-2000. He was elected to his first term with 58 percent of the vote and was re-elected four years later with 66 percent, becoming the first Republican governor to win a second term in North Dakota since the 1950s.

He has been living in Fargo and tending to business interests since he left office. He spurned many entreaties to run for the U.S. Senate since then, including from North Dakota Republicans, Bush political adviser Karl Rove and Bush himself. He said he would not be happy serving in the legislative branch.

One effort was a brief "draft Ed Schafer" campaign during the 2004 state Republican convention that sputtered to a stop nearly as soon as it was launched because Schafer was adamant that he would not be swayed.

North Dakota's senators, both Democrats, said they had congratulated Schafer and were pleased that a fellow North Dakotan had been nominated.

Gov. John Hoeven and Sens. Sen. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, as well as state Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, all support the current Senate version of a new farm bill now under consideration in Congress and said they hope Schafer will support it.


Schafer's views on federal farm programs have not always been cordial. In his first political race, an unsuccessful bid against Dorgan for U.S. House in 1990, he caused controversy when he said federal farm subsidies allow "lousy operations" to continue in business when they should be allowed to fail in a free market. The remarks were in an interview, during which he criticized crop insurance, the Conservation Reserve Program and target prices paid to farmers.

Dorgan said at the time that he'd "never heard somebody running for a major public office in North Dakota express that lack of understanding for agriculture."

Schafer did not respond to requests for interviews left via phone calls and e-mail on Wednesday. White House spokesman Alex Conant said Schafer is prohibited from talking to news reporters until the Senate confirms him. It's a practice of the Bush White House "since Day 1" on nominees, Conant said.

The announcement was carried live on the White House Web site, with Schafer remaining placid until Bush mentioned his "wonderful wife, Nancy, who came from North Dakota today," where-

upon he produced a smile.

The president also told of Schafer's pioneer forebears who farmed in North Dakota.

"His maternal grandparents were Danish immigrants who worked as farmers on the plains . . . Ed has always kept their story close to his heart," Bush said.

It was the second Cabinet post vacancy Bush filled in two days. On Tuesday, Bush nominated retired Army Lt. Gen. James Peake to direct the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs, which is strained by the influx of wounded troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Both nominations must be confirmed by the Senate.


Farm bill fight

There had been speculation that Bush would keep Charles Conner, the acting secretary and former deputy secretary, in place so the department would not face reshuffling until the farm bill was signed by the president.

"I am eager to welcome him to the department and to work side by side with him to continue the tradition of strong leadership at USDA," Conner said in a statement Wednesday.

The Bush administration has staunchly opposed congressional efforts to keep current farm programs - including billions of dollars in annual crop subsidies to farmers - largely in place. Under Johanns, Bush threatened to veto the House version of the legislation, which passed in July. The Senate is scheduled to debate its version of the $288 billion bill next week.

"With Ed's leadership, we will work with Congress to pass a farm bill that provides farmers with a safety net, protects our lands and the environment, and spends federal tax dollars wisely," Bush said.

The Bush administration has argued that too many farm dollars are directed to wealthy farmers, a position that is likely to put Schafer at odds with Congress as farm interests continue to have considerable influence on Capitol Hill.

Bush has also opposed proposals to provide billions in additional financial assistance to farmers who have suffered weather-related losses, a priority for North Dakota farmers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

What To Read Next
Get Local