FARGO — If progressive Democrats have their way, North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp won't become U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under the Biden administration.
What many in the Heitkamp camp presumed was going to happen has become reality, according to national publications.
Politico, a Washington, D.C.-based political website, reported recently that progressive groups have their "knives out" for Heitkamp's nomination because they believe the former Democratic U.S. Senator is too tight with corporate agribusiness and the fossil fuel industry.
Those relationships, which the moderate Heitkamp forged during her political career because she represented constituents to whom those institutions were important, are seen as toxic and disqualifying by the far left wing of the Democratic Party.
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Politico reported that about 150 liberal food and ag groups will ask the transition team of president-elect Joe Biden to remove Heitkamp from their list of ag secretary possibilities.
"Heitkamp is the wrong choice for the USDA because she has aligned herself with corporate agribusiness at the expense of family farmers, supports fossil fuel interests, and holds views that are out of step with the Democratic Party and the majority of Americans," read a letter to Biden's team, according to Politico.
There's no indication Biden is thinking of dropping Heitkamp, who has been tabbed as the favorite for ag secretary since he and running mate Kamala Harris beat President Donald Trump on Nov. 3. Heitkamp campaigned strongly for Biden and served in the Senate with Harris, who Heitkamp considers a close friend.
The attack from the left flank comes as no surprise to Heitkamp supporters. Much of the venom directed at her mirrors the broader ideological division in the Democratic Party.
On one hand are moderates like Biden and Heitkamp trying to pull the party to the middle so it becomes more appealing to more Americans, particularly in rural areas. On the other are the far-left progressives, including Democratic Socialists, who believe mainstream Democrats are too middle-of-the-road and too corporate to appeal to their base.
The fight is not, as some have erroneously written, over identity politics. It's over degrees of liberalism. Heitkamp is seen as too moderate for activists on the left.
Politico reports that Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge, who represents a district in and around Cleveland, is openly campaigning for the post. How that plays to the Biden administration, which appears so far to not appreciate grandstanding, will be interesting to watch.
Fudge is a champion of federal nutrition programs, which fall under the Agriculture Department's auspices. There is an organized push for her, including from influential South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, whose support of Biden during the primaries helped propel the former vice president's flagging campaign to victory. Clyburn's support could be a crucial piece for Fudge.
But it's unlikely the Ohio representative has the depth and expertise in U.S. ag policy that Heitkamp does. North Dakota's main crops of soybeans, wheat, corn and sugar beets are mainstays of American farmers. Heitkamp was a fierce critic of Trump's trade war with China, which she said hurts farmers and destroys relationships that took decades to build.
Heitkamp remains mostly mum. She did make an appearance on KFGO-AM in Fargo recently and, when asked about the ag secretary position, stayed neutral. She clearly didn't lobby for the position but said she would be interested if chosen by Biden.
"This is a decision that's going to be made by one and possibly two people and that's Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They are going to look at what makes the most amount of sense to deliver their plans for rural America," Heitkamp said. "If they believe I can be helpful, that's something certainly that I'm interested in."
Politico also mentioned former longtime Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat who lost his reelection bid, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock as possible nominees.
Biden isn't expected to name his choice for ag secretary until mid-December, after making public his choices for more high-profile positions in his administration.
Readers can reach columnist Mike McFeely at email@example.com or 701-451-5655