Crawford planning pitch to lead House agriculture panel in 2021
Written by: John Moritz
Published by: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., announced Tuesday that he will seek to become the top Republican on the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture when the next Congress convenes in 2021.
Crawford, of Jonesboro, a five-term congressman from the 1st District who represents much of east Arkansas and the Delta, made the announcement in Little Rock at a policy event hosted by the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
He told the audience, “I thought y’all ought to hear that first from me.”
The current ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, is barred from continuing to serve in his leadership post beyond the current 116th Congress under Republican rules that limit members from serving more than six years in leadership posts. Conaway served as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee from 2015 until earlier this year, when Democrats became the majority party.
The current chairman of the Agriculture Committee is Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat from Minnesota.
Should control of the House flip again after the 2020 elections, installing Republicans in the majority, Crawford would be running for chairman of the committee, as long as the congressman himself wins re-election.
Crawford said he believed his biggest competition for the leadership role on the committee would come from Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia and Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson of Pennsylvania.
“I wouldn’t say a bad word about either one of them,” Crawford said.
Crawford said he would focus his pitch on his experience in the agriculture industry — he’s worked as an agricultural reporter and as a marketing manager for a John Deere dealer — as well as the “diversity” of agriculture in Arkansas, which includes row crops, poultry, livestock and forestry.
“There’s certainly a geographic prerogative that I think is important,” Crawford said. “There needs to be a counterbalance because [there’s] so much Midwestern representation in the ag world, to be able to balance that out from a mid-South or Southern perspective is important.”
The Agriculture Committee’s duties include drafting a “farm bill” every five years, which covers both agricultural subsidies and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known by its acronym SNAP, or more simply as food stamps.
Tommy Young, a farmer from Tuckerman in Jackson County who said he’s known Crawford for close to 30 years, speculated that it would be a “godsend” to have Crawford lead the committee in charge of the farm bill.
“He’s been involved in agriculture from all aspects of it,” said Young, who grows rice, corn, wheat and soybeans on nearly 7,500 acres. “Most of those people that are in that position are not really in the trenches with the farmers and understand what it means to get out there and work like we do and work the hours that we do. I believe that he understands that.”
At the Farm Bureau event, Crawford received a boost from fellow U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Rogers who represents the 3rd District. Womack said Crawford is “at the very top of the list” to lead the Agriculture Committee.
But elsewhere, state Democratic Party leader Michael John Gray, a peanut farmer from Woodruff County in Crawford’s district, said he had doubts that Crawford would be effective.
“He hasn’t been a voice in Washington; he hasn’t made a footprint there,” Gray said. “I question whether he has the effectiveness to be the leader we need him to be.”
Gray pointed to the issue of President Donald Trump’s ongoing trade dispute with China and other countries. The dispute has resulted in higher tariffs being placed on American agricultural exports. Gray said Crawford was not speaking out enough against the policies of the Republican president.
Addressing the issue at Tuesday’s event, Crawford acknowledged that farmers were being pinched because of the disputes, and said, “We need to get those trade deals done.”
Crawford also fielded a question about SNAP benefits being rolled into the farm bill. Crawford said he did not believe that food stamp benefits should be taken out of the farm bill, suggesting that doing so would lead to less incentive for representatives not focused on agriculture to pass a farm bill.
Past representatives from the largely rural 1st District have taken on leadership roles in formulating agricultural policy in Washington.
Crawford’s predecessor in Congress, Marion Berry, a Democrat and farmer from Arkansas County, served as a special assistant to then-President Bill Clinton for agricultural trade and food assistance before joining Congress.
Former 1st District Rep. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat, was later elected to the U.S. Senate, where she served as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee between 2009 and 2011.