Democrats won the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives Nov. 6, increasing the chance that 2016 farm bill will be signed prior to them taking over the House in January.

Current Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-MN, will once again become Agriculture Committee chairman, with a new cast serving as subcommittee chairs. Two subcommittee chair seats will see new leadership, which will add interest as the new Congress is seated.

The ranking member on the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee 74-year-old Rep. Rick Nolan, D-MN, is retiring.

Meanwhile, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, ranking member of the Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research Subcommittee, was elected governor of New Mexico, succeeding retiring Republican Susana Martinez. This will be the first time in U.S. history that a woman succeeds a woman in a governorship.

Other subcommittee ranking members who are likely to become chairs are Rep. David Scott, D-GA, on the Commodity, Exchanges, Energy and Credit Subcommittee; Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-OH, on the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee; Rep. Jim McGovern, D-MA, on the Nutrition Subcommittee; and Rep. Jim Costa, D-CA, on the Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee.

This list may be subject to change, as McGovern is also in line to chair the House Rules Committee, which could limit his time for the Agriculture committee, and may cause him to beg off serving as Nutrition subcommittee chair. McGovern has become known through two farm bill debates for his fiery rhetoric on nutrition issues and took that same spirit to the Rules Committee, attempting to find ways to limit what he believed were damaging parts of the farm bill.

One Republican House ag member went down to defeat. Rep. John Faso, R-NY. Overall, estimates indicate a 25-seat gain by Democrats in the House. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-KS, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, was defeated by Democratic newcomer Sharice Davids.

By the time this report was filed, Republicans may have gained a seat or two on the Senate Agriculture Committee, as Democrats Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota—losing to Gov. Kevin Cramer, R-ND—were defeated and Jon Tester of Montana seemed poised to lose his seat. Overall, news estimates indicate Republicans could gain at least two seats in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith of Mississippi and Democrat Mike Espy, an Agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, are headed for an election runoff on Nov. 27, since neither candidate received over 50 percent of the vote. Each got about 40 percent of the vote. Regionally, Sen. Claire McCaskill also lost her seat in the Senate.

Several new governors, whose offices often manage water and environmental policies, were elected in the region, including Rep. Kristi Noem, R-SD; and Rep. Tim Walz, D-MN. The two House Agriculture Committee members vacated their seats to run for governor.

Democratic State Sen. Laura Kelly, won an upset victory in her race for Kansas governor. Rep. Jared Polis, D-CO, won the governorship there, becoming the first openly gay man to be a governor of a state. Republican Kim Reynolds became the first woman governor of Iowa. Republican businessman Kevin Stitt won in Oklahoma.

In a referendum of note, a California initiative to ban the confinement of farm animals in cages passed by a large margin.

Proposition 12, which sets space requirements for egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and calves being raised for veal, also bans the sale of eggs and meat from animals that are not kept according to the California’s standards, including products from animals raised out of state.

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or ldreiling@hpj.com.

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