Ark. Sen. Lincoln new head of Senate ag committee
By JILL ZEMAN BLEED (AP) – 14 hours ago
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Sen. Blanche Lincoln will become the first woman to head the Senate agriculture committee under leadership changes made because of Ted Kennedy's death.
Lincoln, D-Ark., said implementing the new federal farm bill and ending the trade embargo with Cuba are among the top issues facing the Senate panel.
"I've always supported opening up trade with Cuba, and I'll continue to do so. I can't single-handedly make it happen as chairman of the committee," she said Wednesday, adding that she would do her best to keep the issue front and center.
Lincoln takes over from Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who will replace Kennedy as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in a series of leadership changes announced Wednesday.
"As a seventh-generation Arkansan and farmer's daughter, I know my father is smiling down on me today," Lincoln said.
Lincoln is a supporter of government farm subsidies who has served on Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry January 1999. When she was a congresswoman, she served on the House Agriculture Committee from 1993-1995.
Lincoln said the committee has always been a top choice for her during her time in Congress.
"As the chairman, I'm going to again enjoy an elevated opportunity to really help our state, and that's exactly what I'll be aiming to do," she said.
Farm advocates in her home state praised the move, saying they hoped it would increase the state's clout on agricultural issues.
"Agriculture is the largest industry in our state," said Randy Veach, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. "Her being in that position gives us an opportunity to keep agriculture financially sound and stable."
Lincoln said she ended up first in line for the job because other more senior senators — Sens. Max Baucus, Kent Conrad and Patrick Leahy — already serve as chairmen of other committees.
"The ag committee is a very old committee, and it's also a very senior committee in the sense that most of the members have been on there for quite some time, and that means there's not a lot of turnover in terms of chairmanship," she said.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Lincoln downplayed the notion that the new role would make her more politically powerful as she runs for re-election next year.
"I fully expect there'll be many challengers out there. It's kind of the season for that, I suppose," she said.
Six Republicans have announced bids for Lincoln's seat, and state Senate President Bob Johnson says he's considering challenging her in the Democratic primary. Lincoln has more than $3.2 million cash on hand for her re-election bid.
Arkansas Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb said he wasn't optimistic that Lincoln would be able to help farmers in the new position, saying Lincoln does not stand firm against President Barack Obama.