It’s farm groups vs. lawmakers in rivalry for House Agriculture gavel

Outgoing Chairman Collin C. Peterson endorses David Scott

Reps. David Scott and Jim Costa are vying to succeed Rep. Collin C. Peterson, above, as chairman of House Agriculture. Peterson lost his bid for reelection.   (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Reps. David Scott and Jim Costa are vying to succeed Rep. Collin C. Peterson, above, as chairman of House Agriculture. Peterson lost his bid for reelection. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 18, 2020 at 4:39pm

Two Democrats vying for the chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee are collecting endorsements to cement their bids, with one of them so far receiving backing from agriculture groups while the other is supported by committee colleagues. 

Georgia Rep. David Scott, who has the endorsement of a dozen colleagues, would become the first African American to lead the committee if he wins. Rep. Jim Costa of California, supported by dozens of farm groups, would become the first chairman from his state since Republican John Bidwell served from 1865 to 1867.

On Wednesday, Costa said he had the backing of California Citrus Mutual, Florida Citrus Mutual and Texas Citrus Mutual for his run for chairman. The support from the citrus trade associations is in addition to endorsements from 70 California agriculture groups for the lawmaker. The groups want someone from the Golden State to shape farm policies and recognize California’s place in agriculture as a top generator of farm income from dairy, almonds, grapes, cattle, strawberries, salad greens and more than 300 other crops.

In a Nov. 11 letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also from California, the citrus groups said Costa’s background as a third generation farmer and his 16 years in Congress give him a familiarity with industry concerns such as immigration, trade, food security and citrus greening, an insect transmitted disease that deforms and makes citrus fruit too bitter to eat. The Agriculture Committee doesn’t have jurisdiction over immigration, but it can advocate for changes and it has oversight on Agriculture Department policies and programs on agricultural imports and exports.

But Scott of Georgia has a letter of support from Chairman Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., the man he hopes to replace. Peterson, who is widely respected in agricultural circles, lost his run for a 16th term on Nov. 3.

In the Nov. 6 letter to Scott, Peterson said he backs Scott’s candidacy because he has the committee seniority to claim the post and because of his work on issues such as food programs for the poor, financial safety net for livestock producers and specialty and commodity crop farmers. Scott also has pushed to raise the profile and funding for predominantly Black land grant colleges and universities.

“While we haven’t always agreed on every issue, we have worked together to find a path forward on those issues over the years,” Peterson said.

Scott also has a Nov. 12 “Dear Colleague” letter of endorsement from 12 current Democratic committee members, including Vice Chairwoman Alma Adams of North Carolina, subcommittee chairman Filemon Vela of Texas and subcommittee chairwomen Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio and Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Fudge was viewed as a likely contender for the chairmanship, but is now rumored to be a possible candidate for Agriculture secretary in a Biden administration. 

The members cite Scott’s work on three farms bills during his 18 years on the committee. “We are confident Congressman David Scott has the experience, dedication and the ability to serve as Chairman and address the heightened challenges of our time,’’ the 12 lawmakers wrote.