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Georgia’s Scott to make history in taking Agriculture gavel

Caucus chooses first African American for panel leader

Scott, shown here at a June hearing, says climate change is high on his priority list.
Scott, shown here at a June hearing, says climate change is high on his priority list. (Bill O’Leary/AFP via Getty Images/Pool file photo)

Georgia lawmaker David Scott won his campaign for chairman of the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday with a majority of House Democrats selecting him to lead the panel in the 117th Congress.  

Scott makes committee history in becoming the first African American to take the committee’s top post in the panel’s 200 years. He will replace Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., who lost his race for a 16th term in Congress on Nov. 3.  

Scott received 144 votes in the Democratic caucus and Jim Costa of California received 83 votes.

Scott attributed his victory “to a diverse coalition of members from across our nation” and said he has several priorities for the next Congress.  

“I will use this critical opportunity to represent the values of our entire caucus and advance our priorities for trade, disaster aid, climate change, sustainable agriculture, SNAP, crop insurance, small family farms, specialty crops, and rural broadband,” he said in a statement, using the acronym for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program once known as food stamps.

He said he would try to bridge differences among communities and tackle climate change.

“The fault lines dividing our rural and urban communities are running deep, and climate change is now threatening our nation’s food supply. As Chairman, I will lead the fight to rise up and meet these challenges,” he said.

Costa issued a statement congratulating Scott. “In order to address the issues facing American agriculture, I’m committed to working with him. His 18 years of experience on the committee undoubtedly will benefit our efforts to provide solutions to the challenges ahead during this pandemic,” he said.

The new top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee will be Glenn “GT” Thompson of Pennsylvania. Thompson will succeed ranking member K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, who is retiring from Congress after deciding not to seek another term.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Senate Agriculture ranking member, congratulated the two men on their elections. In the 117th Congress, Stabenow, D-Mich., will be the only remaining member of the “Big Four” leaders — the two chairmen and two ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees — who negotiated the 2018 farm bill. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., is retiring from Congress.

“Both of them have been champions for rural America, and I know they will continue that great work as Chairman and Ranking Member,” Stabenow said in a statement. “I look forward to partnering with them to combat the COVID-19 crisis, address inequities in our food system, and tackle the climate crisis.”

Peterson said Scott and Thompson, who are both subcommittee chairmen and long-time committee members, are well equipped to lead the panel.

“We’re going to have new leadership and they are very capable leaders, too. I have no doubt they are going to do a good job,” Peterson said Thursday during a press call on legislation to expand the Conservation Reserve Program to 50 million acres as a tool for sequestering carbon in the soil.

Peterson said he has had “extensive conversations” with Scott about the ideas he has laid out in the bill, which will not be acted on this year. The legislation, Peterson said, is designed to spur discussion and action in the next Congress.  

“I think what I am putting forward would have an impact with him. I would assume maybe it would with GT as well,” Peterson said.

“They’ll have to decide what to do,” he said, referring to Scott and Thompson. “I’m laying this out in front of them as something I think makes sense.”

Peterson said the bill would make the program a prime way for agriculture to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He said he also hoped that requiring that the Agriculture Department to enroll 50 million acres in the program would help reduce price-depressing overproduction of some crops.

Under the Conservation Reserve Program, highly erodible or environmentally sensitive cropland is taken out of production. Farmers usually sign 10-year contracts and are paid on a per-acre basis for the land enrolled. The maximum level authorized is currently 24 million acres and slated to rise to 27 million acres by fiscal 2023. 

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