WASHINGTON—As Mike Johanns prepares for Senate confirmation hearings following his Dec. 2 nomination as agriculture secretary, news about the two-term Nebraska governor's lifelong ties to animal agriculture emerges.
WASHINGTON-As Mike Johanns prepares for Senate confirmation hearings following his Dec. 2 nomination as agriculture secretary, news about the two-term Nebraska governor's lifelong ties to animal agriculture emerges.
If confirmed, 54-year-old Johanns will succeed Ann Veneman, who announced her resignation in November. While heading the United States Department of Agriculture means advancing the nation's rural agenda, for Johanns, the job's likely to include protecting an election-year farm bill granting the most generous government subsidies ever awarded to growers. As Congress makes budget-cutting threats, Dr. Clarence Johanns, a dairy practitioner in Iowa, says he's confident his ambitious cousin will stand up for agriculture's issues.
"Mike grew up on a dairy farm in northern Iowa," Johanns says. "He's hard working, and knows what's important to us. I'm very proud and happy for Mike."
Johanns, a lawyer by trade, began his career in government and city offices before becoming mayor of Lincoln, Neb., in 1991. In 1998, he won the governor's seat, and in 2002, he became the first Republican to win re-election in more than four decades.
Dr. Orval Gigstad, past president of the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association and a private practitioner, has worked with Johanns throughout his governing years. While he describes the leader as a "quiet and thoughtful guy," Gigstad says Johanns' strength is his ability to deal with hot issues.
"He doesn't do a lot of grandstanding; he sees problems, gets both sides and has things thought out pretty well before he goes in," Gigstad says. "We've been hit with chronic wasting disease, and our state has been right out front on Homeland Security and bioterrorism, including setting up veterinarians to work on foreign animal diseases. The governor has always been up to speed on that stuff."
Dr. Tom Burkgren, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, doe not know Johanns personally, but he hopes the governor is gearing up for a farm bill fight as some congressional leaders announce a rewrite planned for next spring.
The 2002 bill, which recently endured more than $400 million in spending cuts to conservation programs, is vulnerable, Burkgren says.
"It's likely Congress will try to open it back up since it's not up for renewal until 2007," he says. "Getting agriculture recognized as a vital part of budget planning is important. I think it's good the seat's going to a governor from a strong agriculture state."