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Trump Transition Beginning at USDA

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Trump transition team spokesman Jason Miller said Joel Leftwich, staff director of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, will now serve as the leader of the transition team at USDA. Leftwich succeeds Michael Torrey, a food industry lobbyist who said on November 18 that he was withdrawing because it would have required him to terminate his lobbying registration.

Leftwich has been staff director for Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) at the Senate Agriculture Committee since January 2015. He was senior director of public policy and government affairs at PepsiCo from 2013 to 2015. He began his career in Washington, D.C., as a legislative aide for then Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) in 2000-01.

“I think Joel will do a fantastic job on the transition team,” said Hunt Shipman, partner with Cornerstone Government Affairs, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm that represents the Produce Marketing Association. Shipman said Leftwich’s experience in a variety of roles in Washington, D.C., will help the USDA make an efficient transition.

Meanwhile, media reports continue to focus on Hoosiers who might soon head the USDA. Washington media sources says Vice President-elect Mike Pence reports that he will have a lot of say in who gets control of the Department of Agriculture. Five of the nine names among the top potential picks for Agriculture Secretary are from Indiana, either by birth or business connections, and most have ties to Pence. The shortlist includes Don Villwock, Past President of the Indiana Farm Bureau, and Ted McKinney, the current director of the Indiana Department of Agriculture.

Included on the shortlist as well is Chuck Conner, the President and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. Conner is a Purdue University graduate who has previously served as the Deputy USDA Secretary. Also on the list are Mike McCloskey, a dairy executive from Indiana, and Kip Tom, a farmer who ran for Congress in Indiana this year but was defeated in the primary.