By selecting defeated Rep. Dan Glickman, D-Kan., to become his new Secretary of Agriculture, President Clinton appears to have made a good choice to replace Mike Espy, who resigned under investigation into his accepting gifts from industries regulated by the Agriculture Department.
Glickman has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1976 but was upset in the Nov. 8 Republican tidal wave that gave the GOP control of Congress. He has been praised by farm groups and consumer groups as well for his work on farm, food and nutrition issues.In fact, he was endorsed for the Department of Agriculture post by influential Republicans as well as Democrats. Among those important backers was Senate GOP leader Bob Dole, a fellow Kansan.
While Glickman is the first out-of-work Democratic congressman to be named to a top administration position after the November election, he may not have been the instinctive favorite choice of Clinton.
The departing representative publicly opposed the president on GATT and voted against the treaty in the House, although GATT won handily. But in addition to bipartisan support in Congress, Glickman had powerful friends in the White House, mainly Leon Panetta, the chief of staff for Clinton.
However, Glickman's GATT vote is a cause for concern. One of the big jobs of the Secretary of Agriculture will be representing U.S. interests under the treaty. Part of his job will be to persuade other countries to enforce tough new trade rules, which are burdensome to some farmers.
The new secretary simply must be able to function as an enthusiastic advocate under the treaty he earlier opposed. His performance will have to be watched closely.
Espy was a former representative and apparently failed to shed some congressional habits - such as accepting gifts from groups seeking favors - when he moved to the executive branch. Glickman is probably wise enough to avoid the same kind of mistakes.
His two decades of experience in dealing with farm issues in Congress plus strong management skills should serve Glickman well as secretary. But he faces many other challenges.
The sprawling Department of Agriculture, with its 100,000 employees and myriads of unrelated projects, is bound be a tempting target for budget cutters. Some of the agency's programs already are targeted. For example, many of the $10 billion-a-year farm programs, including crop subsidies, ought to come under the knife.
The biggest part of the department's budget by far has nothing to do with farming. It is spent on food stamps, school lunches and nutritional programs largely centered in urban areas - programs that seem out of place in an agency established to deal with farming.
In any case, agriculture seems destined to occupy much of the political spotlight in the next couple of years and Glickman clearly will play a major role in helping to forge farm policy.