FARGO, N.D. - Some members of a Donald Trump Agricultural Advisory Committee are pushing for a former Iowa legislator to become U.S. Agriculture Secretary.
North Dakota State Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, says his personal choice for the U.S. Department of Agriculture head has been Charles Herbster, a Nebraska cattleman and agribusinessman, but if the administration is looking for gender diversity on the cabinet his choice would be former Iowa state Rep. Annette Sweeney, R-Alden.
Brandenburg says Sweeney would be effective, especially if the Trump administration is looking to include a woman in a cabinet post. Nominees for other posts all have been men. He says he holds no ill will against U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who is speculated to be a potential nominee to the post. Heitkamp would have been "fine in a Hillary Clinton administration," but would not be a good fit in a Republican administration, directing the activities of dozens of Republican appointees, Brandenburg says.
For her part, Heitkamp this week said it was "likely" she would stay in the Senate instead of joining the Trump administration, but was "not saying, 'never, never.'" about the position.
Several members of the Trump ag advisory committee would be good choices, Brandenburg says, especially because they were strong supporters of Trump through the difficult primary and general election campaigns, even through controversies over Trump's sexual remarks.
South Dakota State Rep. Larry Rhoden, also a member of the Trump ag advisory committee, says he would also support Sweeney because of their involvement in the State Agriculture and Rural Leaders organization, and sees her as a person of common sense. He says it seems apparent the Trump transition team is looking to involve a woman on the cabinet because of their consideration of U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., who declined the position because of her interest in running for governor.
Sweeney, 59, was a member of the Iowa House of Representatives from 2009 to 2013, and served as the first Republican woman chairman of the agriculture committee from 2011 to '12. She was defeated in a primary by Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford. Pat is a grandson of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who has served in the Senate since 1981, and previously had been in the House of Representatives since 1975.
Sweeney and Grassley were pitted against each other because of redistricting. She is executive director of the Iowa Angus Association. She farms with her husband, Dave, raising corn, soybeans and purebred Angus cattle. They have two grown sons, one of whom is transitioning into the farm and the other who is in aquaculture. She also has been a publisher and teacher. She has been on the Iowa Women in Agriculture board.
As someone who's "scratched dirt," or farmed, she says she would relish the top USDA post. Her family lives on the farm she grew up on. Her father was a farmer and died unexpectedly in 1981. She was a teacher for some time, but returned to the farm to help her mother in 1983, at the beginning of the farm credit crisis, and later married her husband.
"It would be an opportunity to be the voice of everybody who gets up in a snowstorm and feeds the cattle, everybody in the spring when it's too wet to plant and you sit at the side of the field and your heart is broken, or when you see the (mature crop) and know you can have a harvest that can feed the world or fuel America," she says. "To do that would be the ultimate for helping the world and helping our country."
Sweeney says she's talked to a "few higher-ups" in the Trump organization, but hasn't officially "heard from this administration" about any interview prospects.
Since the beginning of the Trump administration organization, Sweeney says she's attempted to encourage or support others on the advisory committee, including Herbster, Bruce Rastetter, a pork farmer and agribusinessman, also from Alden, Iowa, and Chuck Conner, a former deputy secretary of agriculture and since 2009 president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.
"I always believe it's best to pick the best son for the job," she says on gender-balancing the cabinet. She says an administration might find it beneficial to name a woman to the post. "We're all wired differently, and sometimes the more diversity and balance you can strike might be beneficial," she says.
She looks past sexual statements made by Trump that came out during the campaign. "We look at other presidents, other presidential candidates, and some have done just as bad. We look past those. Let's just get the job done. I played years of sports, and sometimes you have to just get the job done."