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Bush picks Neb. governor as ag secretary

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush on Thursday selected Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns, a Republican attorney who grew up on an Iowa dairy farm, as secretary of Agriculture to oversee the nation’s farm and food programs.

Bush said Johanns was “an experienced public servant from America’s agricultural heartland” with a long record of being “a faithful friend to America’s farmers.”

If confirmed, Johanns would replace Ann Veneman, who announced her resignation on Nov. 15 after saying that she wanted to stay for Bush’s second term.

So far, seven of Bush's 15-member Cabinet have announced they won't be part of the second term.

HHS secretary expected to be next to go
More resignations are expected, with some administration officials saying that Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson is likely to be the next to announce his departure.

Bush announced his intention to nominate the two-term governor in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

The nomination, which requires Senate confirmation, reflects the administration's desire to focus heavily on farm trade over the next four years.

With his wife, Stephanie, looking on, Johanns thanked Bush for inviting him to serve, saying "I have enormous respect for you. … I look forward to advancing your rural agenda for the 21st century."

Born in Iowa and raised on a dairy farm, Johanns, 54, became a lawyer and served in county and city government before becoming mayor of Lincoln, Neb., in 1991.

He won the governor's office in 1998 and in 2002 became the first Republican to win re-election in more than four decades.

Johanns had been considered a possible challenger to Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson in 2006.

Focus on trade
His selection reflects the administration's desire to focus heavily on farm trade over the next four years. As governor, Johanns led a delegation of Nebraska's farm and business leaders on a trade mission to Japan, Taiwan, China, Singapore and a half dozen other countries.

Veneman, a peach farmer's daughter who became the first woman to the head the Agriculture Department, presided during a period of unprecedented wariness about the safety of the nation's food supply.

Weeks after taking office in 2001, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe prompted Veneman to increase inspections and testing to prevent its arrival in the United States. After the Sept. 11 attacks that year, concern grew that terrorists might seek to contaminate the nation's food supply.

Then came the discovery last year of the first case of mad cow disease in the United States. Veneman quickly upgraded the country's defenses, banning high-risk meat products and meat from cows that could not stand or walk on their own, testing more cattle and promising to speed a nationwide animal tracking system. Farm interests for the most part praised Veneman's response, while consumer advocacy groups said Veneman and her agency had not done enough.