Profiling Team Romney: Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman

By Susanne Retka Schill | October 31, 2012

If Republican candidate Mitt Romney wins the election, there’s a good chance Nebraska will once again send a native son to Washington to serve in the president’s cabinet. Last time, it was Mike Johanns, who left the state governorship to become Secretary of Agriculture under President Bush in 2005. This time, Nebraskans are saying that Johanns’ replacement in the governor’s office, Dave Heineman, is on the shortlist for potential cabinet appointees.

Heineman was the first governor to come out in support of Romney. The state’s press was a-twitter at the news coming from out of the Republican National Convention in late summer that Heineman’s name was put forward for a cabinet position. Michael Kelly, writing for the Omaha World-Herald, quoted those saying education or commerce would be good fits, but ethanol industry insiders from Nebraska are saying that agriculture would be the better post.

Should that happen, it would continue a legacy begun by Johanns when he served as Secretary of Agriculture from 2005 to 2008—the years when the renewable fuel standard was first passed into law in 2005 and expanded in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  While that legislation is housed in the energy department under the U.S. EPA, the Energy Title of the 2008 Farm Bill laid out a set of supporting programs in the USDA to build biobased markets, loan guarantees and incentives for advanced biofuels and other programs.

Johanns left the post of Secretary of Agriculture to return to Nebraska in 2008 for a successful run for U.S. Senate. He has little interest in returning to the cabinet post, according to Loran Schmit, a former, long-time state senator in Nebraska and the executive director of the Association of Nebraska Ethanol Producers. Describing himself as an old friend of Johanns, Schmit said, “He liked the job, but he’s been there. I think he’d be more inclined to stay in the Senate.” Gov. Romney is close to Johanns, as well as the governor of Nebraska, he continued, and will consult with them regarding the post of Secretary of Agriculture. “I just hope we get one with some guts and backbone that can stand up and defend agriculture—all parts of agriculture.”

Johanns has campaigned for Romney, and acted as his agricultural spokesman in a Sept. 12 “Presidential Forum on Agriculture” where the former Iowa Lt. Gov. and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge represented the Obama campaign. His comments at the forum give insight into the Republican candidate’s views.

Roger Bernard, Farm Journal policy and Washington editor, covering the forum in the October issue and online, reported on the continuing support for renewable fuels, and in particular, advanced biofuels. “Romney and the Republican party also support the RFS mandate, according to Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. ‘There needs to be new ways to use that product [ethanol] and take the next steps in terms of science and in terms of using other things to produce ethanol other than corn,’ he added.”

 Other highlights reported from the forum include a discussion regarding regulation where Johanns said Romney would practice a “time-out” on new regulations, calling them a “wet blanket over the economy.” Regulations need to have a thoughtful approach, with the right cost-benefit analysis done, Johanns said. Trade also figured in the discussion, with Johanns saying Romney would seek trade promotion authority from Congress, which would allow the administration to negotiate trade deals and bring them back to Congress for an up-or-down vote.  In farm policy, Bernard reports the Romney team favors programs like crop insurance that help manage risk and are counter-cyclical, while programs like direct payments should end.


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