AP NEWS

Combs-Ag Secretary

December 21, 2016

Another Texan has been added to the mix of candidates to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to media reports, Susan Combs, a West Texas rancher who had tours as both state agriculture commissioner and Texas comptroller, met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence in Washington on Tuesday and has gotten the thumbs up from Mike Conaway, the Midland Republican who chairs House Committtee on Agriculture.

Conaway told Politico that Combs was a “stunningly capable woman” and that he “has been working to put her name into consideration with the Trump transition team.” He told the Texas Tribune the position is one “that we on the Ag committee work the closest with, and she’s someone I’m comfortable (with).”

Current state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller meanwhile remains in the running, with spokesman Mark Loeffler confirming that Miller has been in touch with Reince Priebus, the outgoing Republican National Committee chairman and Trump’s appointed chief of staff, about “setting a meeting for next week.”

Who will lead the $140 billion agency remains one of the last remaining questions as Trump prepares his transition into the White House, and names have been swirling.

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, a former president at potato giant Simplot, was leading some of the speculation last week, with Bill Flory of the Idaho Wheat Commission, a member of Trump’s 64-member agricultural advisory committee, telling the Express-News the septuagenarian Otter was an energetic and pro-trade leader who “ran the state like business” and “would really complement the administration.”

North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, also has been seen as a serious contender, though her reported consideration vetting rankled Trump supporters. While the move would open her Senate seat to a Republican — bulking up the GOP lead in the narrowly controlled Senate — Trump’s win has in part been attributed to promises he’d lead an administration that was friendlier to production agriculture than under the current administration on issues such as federal regulation and foreign trade.

The president-elect reportedly has vetted only two members of the advisory committee to lead the USDA, Nebraska cattleman Charles Herbster and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Purdue.

lbrezosky@express-news.net