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- Editor's Note -

Ag Secretary Makes New Friends

By Tommy Horton
Editor


In an effort to promote civility and goodwill during this presidential election year, we feel compelled to hand out some compliments to new Secretary of Agriculture Ed Shaffer. His first venture into cotton country surpassed everyone’s expectations. Anybody attending the National Cotton Council’s annual meeting last month in Memphis probably didn’t know what to anticipate when he walked into an early Saturday morning meeting of delegates.

Although he had already attended a breakfast meeting with the NCC’s executive committee before addressing the delegates, expectations weren’t that high before his speech. After all, here is a former North Dakota governor who may have never seen a cotton field in his life, and now he’s about to talk about the Farm Bill and cotton provisions in the legislation?

What could he possibly offer in the way of new insights into cotton policy after being on the job for just a few weeks? Wouldn’t he simply repeat the Bush Administration’s threat of a possible veto of the Farm Bill unless it was altered?

To put it mildly, Shaffer surprised everyone with his straightforward style and candor. He didn’t profess to have all the answers, and, yes, he dutifully repeated President Bush’s displeasure with certain aspects of the Farm Bill that came out of the House and Senate.

Shaffer, however, didn’t pretend to be an expert on cotton policy. And, in something of a groundbreaking moment, he took several questions from the audience. Some of the questions were tough – especially with regard to how cotton is being targeted by the WTO.

Immediately after his address, he spent more than 30 minutes with ag media representatives. Once again, being the polished politician that he is, he went around and shook hands with every media person in the room before he even got to the podium. That probably sounds like an insignificant gesture, but it got the attention of the media attendees.

Then, he launched into another unscripted session where he dealt with difficult issues as if he were sitting in a coffee shop in North Dakota. He was that comfortable dealing with the media. When the press conference concluded, he scored more points when he lingered in the room and chatted for several minutes with reporters. He was particularly excited when he learned that one reporter was a North Dakota native.

Should we be wary of Shaffer’s tactics? Sure, it’s our duty to be skeptical of all politicians. But, for once, it was refreshing to deal with an Ag Secretary who was so easy to engage in conversation. We can only hope it’s an omen of things to come for the rest of the year.

If you have comments, send them to: Editor, Cotton Farming Magazine, 5118 Park Ave., Suite 111, Memphis, Tenn., 38117. Or send e-mail to: thorton@onegrower.com.

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