Race for Top Republican on House Farm Panel Already Heating Up

  • Retirement by Texan Mike Conaway opens up leadership post
  • Candidates will be making cases to colleagues into 2020

The race to succeed retiring Mike Conaway as the House Agriculture Committee’s top Republican in the next Congress is shaping up to be a three-way affair so far.

While Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.) may have an edge as a former committee vice chairman when Republicans led the panel, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) and Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) have also thrown their hats into the ring to succeed Conaway.

Conaway (R-Texas) announced July 31 he will retire at the end of his term. In the last Congress, Conaway was chairman during negotiations on the 2018 farm law (Public Law 115-334) and was a strong supporter of stricter work requirements for food assistance recipients.

Thompson: Astrid Riecken/Getty Images; Scott: official House portrait; Crawford: Chip
Thompson: Astrid Riecken/Getty Images; Scott: official House portrait; Crawford: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Reps. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania (left), Austin Scott of Georgia (center) and Rick Crawford of Arkansas (right) are seeking to be the top Republican member of the House Agriculture Committee in the next Congress.

“Mr. Thompson has made his intentions known that he will be seeking the Republican leadership position on the committee for the 117th Congress,” said Matt Brennan, Thompson’s chief of staff, in a statement.

The candidates will make their case to the House Republican Steering Committee, an intraparty group responsible for assigning party members to committees and seeded with members loyal to party leaders. The Steering Committee pick is then ratified by the party conference, which is often a formality unless a candidate seeks a vote by the full conference.

While that formal process won’t take place until late in 2020, after control of Congress has been decided in the general election and party members know whether they are fighting for ranking member spots or committee chairman gavels, those vying for the top spot will be making their cases informally to their colleagues until then.

Republicans limit members to three Congresses, or six years, as a committee leader, whether in the majority or minority. Members often retire from Congress when they reach that limit.

In the Running

Thompson is currently the ranking member of the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee and was chairman of the Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations Subcommittee in the last Congress. Thompson comes from a long line of dairy farmers in central Pennsylvania and has pushed to allow schools to include whole milk in their lunch menus.

Scott is the ranking member of the Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit Subcommittee. Elected to Congress in 2010, Scott has been a staunch critic of the Environmental Protection Agency and its impact on farming and also was a member of the House-Senate conference committee for the 2018 farm law.

“I absolutely intend to seek to be the lead Republican on the House Agriculture Committee next Congress to fight for America’s farmers, rural America, and the values we hold dear,” Scott said in a statement to Bloomberg Government.

Crawford’s district is home to a large agricultural community with rice, cotton, and soybean producers. Elected to Congress in 2010, Crawford is on the commodity exchanges subcommittee with Scott and also the general farm commodities and risk management panel with both Thompson and Scott.

Studying Up

“With respect to our political efforts, we are actively hosting events for members across our conference including those in leadership and those who are going to have more challenging races this cycle,” said Crawford’s chief of staff, Jonah Shumate, in an email.

He wouldn’t be the only one pressing the flesh with fellow lawmakers and influential trade groups. Thompson, along with Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) last month formed the Congressional Crop Insurance Caucus to educate fellow lawmakers and staff. He stayed for an hour afterwards for a staff briefing and took notes, according to one person in attendance.

Thompson also spoke Aug. 5. at a trade symposium sponsored by the American Sugar Alliance and was praised by the group for pledging “to continue to fight attempts to weaken sugar policy in the next Farm Bill.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Teaganne Finn in Washington at tfinn@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com; Jonathan Nicholson at jnicholson@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com