My Generation

Midwest Power Shift

Illinois natives in key positions at USDA and on Capitol Hill mean good things for Illinois ag.

Could some agricultural power being shifting back to the Midwest? Illinois Farm Bureau’s Chuck Spencer thinks so.


Chuck told a gathering of Fulton County farmers the other night that after years of key committee positions going to Southeastern folks, some of those top positions are back in the Midwest – and many in Illinois. He pointed to an appropriations subcommittee, where several Illinois Congress people now have a seat. Among them are Tim Johnson, Champaign; Aaron Schock, Peoria; and southern Illinoisan Jerry Costello. This is the subcommittee that would have the power to funnel money into river upgrades, which are closer than ever to getting a green light. The law is passed and they’re just waiting for the money. It’d sure seem that if we can’t get that funding in the next four years, we’ll never get it.


Within the Obama administration, positions are being filled left and right, many by Midwesterners. USDA is, of course, now headed by Iowan Tom Vilsack. He’s hired a fellow Iowan as his chief of staff and an Indiana native as deputy chief of staff. And for his special assistant, Vilsack tapped David Lazarus, a native of Highland Park, Illinois. Chuck Spencer acknowledged that Lazarus doesn’t have an ag background, but he’s a quick study.


Our experience at Farm Progress with Lazarus has been very positive; he was my contact within the Obama campaign for the presidential candidate Q&A we did last fall. As Obama’s director for all things rural, Lazarus immediately committed the campaign to answering our questions – significant, considering that McCain’s staff initially blew us off.


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