Bush nominates former North Dakota governor as Agriculture secretary

President Bush on Wednesday tapped former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer to serve as Agriculture secretary.

"Ed Schafer's the right choice to fill this post," Bush said during an appearance with Schafer at the White House. "He was a leader on agricultural issues during his eight years as governor of North Dakota," Bush added, saying Schafer had worked to expand trade between the state and China, to spur North Dakota's biofuels industry and to increase economic opportunities in rural areas.

Schafer was elected governor in 1992, serving two four-year terms and becoming the first Republican to be re-elected governor in that state. In 2002, he helped found Extend America, a wireless communications company based in North Dakota. Schafer will succeed Mike Johanns, who resigned in September to run for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel in Nebraska.

Bush told the Grocery Manufacturers Association today the Senate should confirm Schafer quickly, but it is unlikely his nomination would be considered before next week's floor debate on the farm bill. Chuck Conner, the former USDA deputy secretary, has been serving as acting Agriculture secretary and negotiating the administration's position on the farm bill.

Republicans unsuccessfully tried to recruit Schafer to run against North Dakota's Democratic senators. Schafer's governorship was not marked by a high level of activism on agricultural issues, but he comes from one of the most agriculturally oriented states in the country.

Bush said Schafer's priorities as Agriculture secretary would be to work with Congress to pass a farm bill, help to conclude the Doha world trade round, and seek to open up new markets for U.S. beef. As governor, he led an agricultural trade mission from North Dakota to China in 2000 to open markets for North Dakota farm products and oversaw initial development of North Dakota's biofuel industries.

Schafer is the grandson of Danish immigrants who farmed; he grew up in Bismarck in the business world. Before entering politics, he was president of Gold Seal Co., a household products company founded by his father. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who is divorced from Schafer's sister, said in a statement: "I just congratulated Gov. Schafer and said I welcomed his nomination as a fellow North Dakotan. I hope he will support this farm bill, which is good for our state and the nation."

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