As anticipated, California's U.S. Rep. Jim Costa is one of at least two Democrats in the House of Representatives seeking the chairmanship of the lower chamber's Agriculture Committee.
The Fresno lawmaker, who easily won a ninth term, put his hat in the ring Thursday after the defeat of long-time chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn. The House is expected to remain under Democratic control.
“Chairman Peterson is a friend and mentor and he leaves big shoes to fill,” Costa said. “Not only must this Committee address an unstable agricultural economy and a broken international trade system, but we must also feed millions of vulnerable Americans in the throes of a worldwide pandemic. This is a challenge I am ready to accept."
Costa, 68, is one of three committee Democrats that are considered in the running to lead the panel. The others are Reps. David Scott of Georgia and Marcia Fudge of Ohio. Scott, 75, announced Thursday he is also vying for the post.
"Today our nation faces perhaps the most significant struggles any of us have seen in our lifetime," Scott said in a statement. "Across rural and urban communities and from young to old, the threats posed by global illness, hunger, financial insecurity, climate change, and natural disasters are significant. As our nation’s legislative body, it is the duty of Congress to address, through this Committee, the insecurities plaguing our citizens and provide the means for a more fruitful existence."
Experience, expertise and passion
In a letter to colleagues announcing his candidacy, Costa asserted he has the experience, expertise and passion to connect to rural Americans and help lead U.S. agriculture into the future.
"As a third-generation farmer and a 16-year veteran of the Agriculture Committee, I will bring with me a lifetime of knowledge about American agriculture to the chairmanship," he wrote. "I have served as the top Democrat on subcommittees on everything from livestock, foreign agriculture, rural development, farm credit, agriculture research and biotechnology.
"I understand what farmers encounter, from the impacts of climate change and market instability to the need to conserve natural resources and preserve our ability to grow the food we need to feed our communities, country and the world," he added.
Costa said his top priority would be to "ensure that no American goes hungry" by expanding nutrition programs and maintaining on-farm conservation programs. He also wants to work to expand foreign markets for American crops and agricultural products.
“There is the potential for Congressman Costa to play a significant role in agriculture,” Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen said earlier this week. “He not only understands valley agriculture, but he’s been in DC long enough that he’s part of the leadership on the agricultural side. Jim could be a very good advocate on the majority side of the House.”
A former 24-year state legislator who was first elected at age 26, Costa serves in a district that includes urban and rural areas in Fresno, Madera, and Merced counties, which account for about one-quarter of California's agricultural production.
The district is the third largest milk producing region in the country, and the third largest producer of fruits and nuts. Also, about 25% of the residents are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Costa's office explains.