Election 2008

Department of Agriculture Secretary,
Jae C. Hong/AP
President-elect Barack Obama speaks with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

The Presidential Cabinet: Potential Picks for Agriculture, Commerce, Labor and Transportation

November 17, 2008
by Josh Katz
FindingDulcinea looks at the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Labor and Transportation, explaining what they do and who might head them in the Obama administration.

Department of Agriculture

The United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, regulates food and farming issues. [That includes ensuring food safety, a major issue as of late, thanks to a string of food contamination scares. “The USDA inspects and grades meats and grains, administers crop and ethanol subsidies, hands out food stamps and disaster relief, runs land conservation programs, and oversees organic labeling,” according to Grist magazine. The Secretary of Agriculture also has jurisdiction over the U.S. Forest Service and the 190 million acres of land under its watchful eye.

Tom Vilsack, Tom Buis and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin are frontrunners for the job. Vilsack is a former Iowa governor who left the presidential race early. He then served as Hillary Clinton’s campaign national co-chairman, and then threw his support behind Obama. Vilsack has a “moderate record on farm policy,” according to Grist, and that may not mesh with Obama’s desire for an innovator. But like Obama, he does advocate for corn ethanol.
Tom Buis is the president of the National Farmer’s Union. “The group represents family farmers and ranchers, and the selection of Buis would signal a significant policy shift away from the priorities of food processors and grocery manufacturers to those of small farmers and producers,” according to CQ Politics. Sandlin is the only representative for South Dakota, and she is considered “a prairie populist,” Grist writes. House Agriculture Chairman Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota are other options.

Department of Commerce

According to the department’s Web site, the mission of the Department of Commerce  “encompass[es] broadly the responsibility to foster, serve, and promote the Nation's economic development and technological advancement.”

Two names top the list for the Secretary of Commerce, according to a Cabinet chart designed by political analyst Paul Bedard: Penny Pritzker and Jason Furman.
Pritzker is a billionaire, who, along with two cousins, heads the Hyatt hotel family business, The Wall Street Journal writes. She is a longtime Chicago friend of Obama and worked as his national finance chairman during the campaign. She earned plaudits for running a historically lucrative campaign by focusing on middle-class donors and reaching out through the Internet.   

Bedard says that Furman could be the other person in line for the job, but The New York Times suggests that he is more likely to become a top White House or Treasury Department deputy. He served as Obama’s economic policy director for five months, and was director of the Hamilton Project before the campaign, an organization founded by President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin to hatch alternatives to the Bush economic doctrine. In an interview he said that he agrees with many of Obama’s ideas, “like universal health insurance, progressive taxation and not privatizing Social Security.”

Department of Labor

The Department of Labor “fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States,” according to its Web site.
House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, former House Democratic Whip David Bonior, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and George Miller, the House Education and Labor Committee leader, are the major names in the hat for Secretary of Labor, The New York Times Caucus Blog reports. Bedard’s chart narrows the choices to Gephardt and Bonior.

The name of Andy Stern has been bandied about for the Labor Secretary position as well. Stern, “perhaps the nation’s most visible labor leader,” is the president of the Service Employees International Union. The union boasts 1.8 million members and has one of the largest union growth rates in the country. The union lobbied for Obama more than did any other labor group; however, Stern has indicated that he does not want the job. There is also acrimony between Stern and the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Democratic presidents tend to obtain A.F.L.-C.I.O support before choosing a Labor secretary.

Department of Transportation

The Department of Transportation’s responsibilities cover all forms of transportation. It “regulates safety in the aviation, motor carrier, railroad, mass transit, motor vehicle, maritime, commercial space, and pipeline transportation areas.”

Steve Heminger appears to be a leading candidate for the job of Transportation Secretary, according to PolitickerCA.com. Heminger is the executive director of the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

But there are a number of other names in the mix. Penn. Gov. Ed Rendell, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar, Federal Aviation Administrator Jane Garvey, and Democratic Reps. Pete DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon are also supposedly under consideration. Heminger, who holds a regional and not a federal role, may rise to the top because “transportation industry executives close to the Obama campaign” believe that the new administration will try to “put a new stamp on the new department” by avoiding Washington insiders, Pacific Shipper reports.

Most Recent Features