By Mary Clarkin
The Hutchinson News
It appears likely there will not be a Kansan on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee when the new 113th Congress begins work this week.
In early December, U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler/Hutchinson, was booted off the committee by the House Republican Steering Committee. Huelskamp, a conservative who has criticized Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the action "vindictive."
As of Friday, none of the other three House members from Kansas had been appointed to Agriculture for the next session.
Staff for the House Agriculture Committee declined to answer questions.
"I don't think we can confirm the reality until January," said Terry Holdren, general counsel for Kansas Farm Bureau.
It is his understanding, though, Holdren said, that "the committee slots have been filled including whatever slot may or may not have been Huelskamp's slot."
A rumor circulating in Kansas that Huelskamp was replaced on Agriculture by a California lawmaker appears false.
U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., was named in late November - before the action against Huelskamp - to bicameral negotiations on the farm bill.
For the new Congress, Garamendi has been assigned to Armed Services and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees, not Agriculture.
Garamendi has said he wants a seat on Agriculture, and his spokesman, Donald Lathbury, said the Congressman will probably pursue a waiver to gain appointment to a third committee once the new Congress begins.
This month, Republicans named seven new GOP members to the House Agriculture Committee, while Democrats named four new Democrats to the committee.
The new members come from Michigan, New York, Illinois, California, North Carolina, Florida, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Texas.
Impact on Kansas
When Huelskamp blasted Boehner for being removed from Agriculture, he pointed out that Kansas' Big First was the single most productive agricultural Congressional district in the country, and a western Kansan had served on the House Agriculture Committee for 151 years.
"I think it's very significant," Sue Schulte, director of communications for the Kansas Corn Growers Association, said of the absence of a Kansan from the panel.
Congress probably won't produce a farm bill before the current session ends, and those in the agricultural industry said it would be advantageous to have a Kansan involved in crafting legislation at the committee level.
Schulte sounded concerned about the eventual makeup of the committee, too.
It does make a difference, Schulte said, if it ends up tilting more to one region or another.
"We will miss having an advocate on the House Ag Committee," Kansas Wheat Commissioner Ron Suppes wrote in an email.
Kansas as a state relies heavily on the successes of agriculture, Suppes noted, so the impact reaches beyond farmers, he said.
The House Agriculture Committee will continue to be led by Chairman Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Manhattan, formerly served on the House Agriculture Committee with Lucas, and U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, also has worked with Lucas, giving Kansas farm interests other avenues to reach the House panel, noted Holdren.
Both Schulte and Mike Beam, senior vice president of the Kansas Livestock Association, said Kansans would benefit from work done by their national counterpart industry agencies. Also, the Kansas delegation in Washington would be aware of farm issues.
"It's not ideal, but it's not the end of the world," Beam said.
Other Kansans in D.C.
Jenkins and U.S. Reps. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, and Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, have attractive committee assignments for the coming session, observed Holdren.
Jenkins is on Ways and Means, Yoder on Appropriations, and Pompeo, Energy and Commerce. Those prime slots are another reason a Kansan won't sit on Agriculture, Holdren said.
Huelskamp was kicked off the Budget Committee in the same maneuver removing him from Agriculture, but remained on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. The News was unable to reach Huelskamp last week.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Dodge City, is the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Roberts intends to maintain that title in 2013, but it has not been finalized, his staff said Friday.