Politics & Government

Meet the three Texans who could be agriculture secretary under Donald Trump

Former Texas A&M president Elsa Murano holds up a medallion after being formally named the university's 23rd president in 2008. Murano is one of three Texans who could become agriculture secretary under President-elect Donald Trump.
Former Texas A&M president Elsa Murano holds up a medallion after being formally named the university's 23rd president in 2008. Murano is one of three Texans who could become agriculture secretary under President-elect Donald Trump. AP

There’s only a few open Cabinet positions left in Donald Trump’s administration, but two more Texans have surfaced as potential picks for agriculture secretary.

Former Texas agriculture commissioner Susan Combs and former Texas A&M president Elsa Murano are under consideration to lead the Department of Agriculture. They join fellow Texan and sitting agriculture commissioner Sid Miller as potential agriculture picks.

Combs, who also served as a state representative and worked for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, is a moderate Republican who has spent recent years leading various non-profits with the goal of empowering women. She met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence this week in Washington.

“Anyone that’s been to Texas knows Susan because of her career,” said Debbie Saviano, a former teacher from Plano, Texas, and founder of Women’s Leadership Live, a group advised by Combs that plans speaking events and conferences to empower women. “She’s a tall woman and she comes in with a presence. She’s no nonsense and she gets things done.”

Saviano’s Women’s Leadership Live co-founder Linda McMahon also has a close connection to Trump.

The former World Wrestling Entertainment executive and U.S. Senate candidate was recently tapped to be Trump’s small business administrator.

“I would bet that introductions and names were mentioned,” Saviano said of McMahon playing a role in Combs’ consideration by the president-elect but added that there’s plenty of men who worked with Combs in Texas who are close to Trump.

But Combs was a reluctant Trump supporter.

During the campaign, Combs initially supported Carly Fiorina and Sen. Marco Rubio before eventually voting for Trump.

“I think Mr. Trump has an unfortunate habit — and I was the co-chair for Carly Fiorina — of not being particularly polite in public about women,” Combs said during the Texas Tribune festival earlier this year, “but I’m also focused a lot of time on the economic issues.”

Combs, a former cattle rancher who still helps on her family’s West Texas farm, shares a notable cause with First Lady Michelle Obama; both have championed getting more healthy food into schools in their public lives.

“At the end of the day, women want to do what’s best for children,” Saviano said. “What Michelle Obama did is very much in line with what Susan did. Too often, we get caught up in politics. She’s going to bring all interested parties to the table and come up with an action plan. Her whole life has been in agriculture, giving shots to cows, that’s someone who understands agriculture.”

Combs’ style contrasts with Miller, Texas’ current agriculture commissioner who famously rolled back many of Combs’ healthy food initiatives by granting “amnesty” to a cupcake and allowing deep fryers and soda machines in schools.

While Combs was ambivalent about Trump, Miller was one of his most vocal supporters, hitting the cable news circuit to declare the polls and pundits predicting a Trump loss were dead wrong.

“I’ve always been very anti-establishment,” Miller said in an interview with McClatchy. “I’m actually kind of in the mold of Trump, in many ways.”

Miller, who has an active social media presence and frequently sports a white cowboy hat, tweeted a vulgar term to describe Hillary Clinton shortly before Election Day. Miller apologized for the tweet and said a staffer copied and pasted it.

The final Texan under consideration is Murano, a former president of Texas A&M University who was its first Hispanic president. She was forced to resign in 2009 after 17 months on the job.

“Her track record of running a major university really speaks for itself,” Trump spokesman Jason Miller said to reporters.

Murano resigned after a spat with then-chancellor Mike McKinney, who did not like her decision-making and relationship with the board of regents appointed by then-Gov. Rick Perry.

Murano will meet with Trump next week, and Miller is also scheduled to visit Trump Tower.

If Combs, Miller or Murano are picked for Trump’s Cabinet, they will join other Texas nominees Rick Perry, who Trump has chosen as energy secretary, and secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty

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