Nelson faces tough choice

Thursday, November 18, 2004

From the viewpoint of many national commentators, U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson's decision is an easy one. Faced with the choice of being U.S. Secretary of Agriculture or continuing in the U.S. Senate, Nelson should opt for Senate service, the pundits say.

It's a more prestigious position on the world stage, they contend. With the privilege of voting on important questions, a senator wields power and influence.

But out in the middle of America, where farming and ranching are the most important industries, Nelson's decision is not nearly so cut and dried.

In Nelson's hometown of McCook and the Great Plains of America, the position of Secretary of Agriculture is held in high regard because middle Americans have seen the position's great effect on our daily lives.

While we would hate to see Nelson give up his Senate seat, we believe he could do a lot to uplift American agriculture in the secretary's job. Therefore, we hope he gives the administration's suggestion serious consideration.

Of course, there are many other factors, pro and con, for Nelson to consider. Highest on the list is Nelson's expected race against Mike Johanns for the Senate seat in 2006. That would be a real donnybrook. Both Nelson and Johanns are two-term governors, and both are popular political figures in Nebraska.

If Nelson takes the Secretary of Agriculture job, it would probably result in a runaway victory for Johanns in 2006, as, other than Nelson, there are no high profile Democratic candidates.

Another consideration for Nelson is that his exit from the Senate would result in a 56-43 Republican majority in the current Senate, giving the GOP an even more decided edge in voting than it has now.

Even so, Nelson is getting strong encouragement to take the job. Randy Peters of McCook, a friend and supporter of Nelson's political career, told the Gazette this morning: "Sen. Nelson would make an excellent Secretary of Agriculture. He is very positive about agriculture's importance to America, and would work hard to represent the interest of farmers."

Still, Peters, has mixed emotions about whether Nelson should take the ag job. "He's doing a good job in the Senate, and I would hate to see him give that up," Peters said. Sounds like a win-win situation. Either way, whether as U.S. Agriculture Secretary or as U.S. Senator, Nebraska and the nation will see a continuance of Ben Nelson's distinguished career of public service.

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