President-elect Donald Trump has met with former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado and is considering appointing him to be the next Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Maldonado met with Trump on Wednesday at his Mar-A-Lago home in Palm Beach, FL. According to incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Maldonado, as the owner of Runway Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley, is a third generation famer with “strong roots in the agriculture industry of California.”
The son of immigrant farmworkers who settled in Santa Maria, Maldonado has years of experience in the industry that he leveraged to become a farm owner and then Mayor of Santa Maria.
While some Republicans are skeptical of his moderate politics, local farm leaders believe Maldonado’s years in public office, along with his upbringing and agricultural business ventures, would help him lead the USDA out of its antagonistic relationship with agriculture.
The pre-election Agri-Pulse Farm and Ranch Poll, which surveys full-time agricultural operators, found that only 18 percent of respondents said they would cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton, while 55 percent said they would vote for Donald Trump.
The poll also found that 86 percent of respondents reported being somewhat or very dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States. That is higher than the 70 percent dissatisfaction rate found in Gallup’s pre-election poll of the overall U.S. population. On the Ag poll question about the “overall state of agriculture today,” 60.4 percent said they were dissatisfied, to only 37 percent satisfied.
Revealing an appareny lack of empathy by liberals for rural America’s concerns and needs, the New York Times analyzed the agriculture community’s unhappiness and Trump’s strength among farmers as “white identity mix[ing] with long-simmering economic dysfunctions.”
Andy Caldwell, the executive director for the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB), told Santa Barbara’s NBC 13 that it is important to have someone like Maldonado, who understands California agriculture, at USDA. As agriculture secretary, Maldonado would be a voice for farmers and the face of agriculture across the country. The role he plays would also impact the use of natural resources, rural development and nutrition policy.
Santa Barbara County District 4 Supervisor Peter Adam, a fifth-generation farmer, told local San Luis Obispo NBC News affiliate KSBY that he knows and supports Maldonado for the position because: “California has a gazillion small crops, and I think he could represent those crops and also represent the big, major crops.” He added that Maldonado loves the land. “I mean, I’ve seen his hands stained red with berries, so he knows what it is to do the work.”
Some Republicans, however, still blame Maldonado for the creation of California’s “jungle” or “top two” primary election system, under which all candidates run in a common primary election and the top two vote winners advance to the general election, regardless of party. The result has been that Republicans have been shut out of may statewide political races in recent years.
President-elect Trump also will meet with Dr. Elsa Murano, the former President of Texas A&M University and a former USDA undersecretary for food safety, in connection with the cabinet post.