McFeely: ND's Heidi Heitkamp could be in line for Secretary of Agriculture under Biden

It's a natural fit, given the former U.S. Senator's advocacy for rural issues, expertise in agriculture and her tight relationship with Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris

Joe Biden came to North Dakota twice to help Heidi Heitkamp's attempt at being re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018. This file photo shows Biden and Heitkamp interacting with supporters at the Fargo Air Museum. Mike McFeely / The Forum

FARGO — While the Republican U.S. senator who replaced her has shamelessly jockeyed for the favor of President Donald Trump and the influence that comes with it, Heidi Heitkamp might have the last laugh.

And the farmers of North Dakota might benefit.

Former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat who lost her re-election bid to Kevin Cramer in 2018, is a possibility to be Secretary of Agriculture in president-elect Joe Biden's administration.

It's a natural fit, given Heitkamp's advocacy for rural issues, expertise in agriculture and her tight relationship with Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris. Biden came to North Dakota twice in 2018 to campaign for Heitkamp and she was a surrogate for him during the presidential campaign.

Reached late last week by Forum News Service about a possible cabinet post, Heitkamp was evasive.


"I've spent almost 40 years of my life in public service. I have never seen our country more divided. These divisions threaten our very democracy. It is every citizen’s responsibility to work to bridge our differences and make America stronger," Heitkamp said via text message. "I am thrilled that the American public voted to elect Joe Biden, who will lead us to healing but also to making opportunities available for all AMERICANS. I will do everything in my power to assist President-Elect Joe Biden in Building Back Better and Restoring the Soul of Our Nation."

Heitkamp is already getting some national attention.

On Saturday, Nov. 7, the same day Biden was named the president-elect over Trump, Politico reported Heitkamp to be "the top pick" for the agriculture job. The political news web site said the 65-year-old "has strong moderate credentials and has in the past broken from her party on controversial policy issues."

Politico noted Heitkamp might be opposed by environmental groups because of her support for the Keystone XL pipeline and because, as a senator, she voted to confirm Trump's top two nominees at the Environmental Protection Agency.

After being elected in 2016, Trump considered Heitkamp for the ag post and met with her about joining his cabinet. Trump eventually selected Sonny Perdue, the Republican former governor of Georgia, to be his secretary of agriculture.

As a senator, Heitkamp served on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Since losing her Senate bid, Heitkamp teamed with former U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana, to launch the One Country Project to help re-connect Democrats with rural areas.

Heitkamp has been a harsh critic of the Trump administration's trade policies, which she believes hurt Midwestern farmers as China slapped tariffs on commodities like soybeans in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on other products.


Politico also mentioned two congressional Democrats as possibilities for ag secretary. Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio is said to be the favorite of the Congressional Black Caucus and progressive Democrats. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois is also under consideration.

Heitkamp would be North Dakota's second Secretary of Agriculture. Republican Ed Shafer, the state's former governor, served a year under George W. Bush in 2008-09.

Readers can reach columnist Mike McFeely at or (701) 451-5655

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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