U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st Congressional District visits Bumbleroot Farm in Windham last spring when she first announced her agriculture reform bill. Submitted photo

Among the contenders for a place in President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet is U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st Congressional District.

Pingree is among half a dozen possible choices frequently mentioned to take the helm at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a bureaucratic colossus typically controlled by someone from the Midwest’s Farm Belt.

Pingree, 65, an organic farmer who lives on a Gulf of Maine island, would break the mold.

This week, the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, two progressive groups, called on Biden to tap Pingree for the job.

Joe Biden and Chellie Pingree Submitted photo

She’s been a champion for overhauling agriculture to help cope with the climate crisis as well as advocating for small farms and organic farmers rather than large companies that have an outsized role in farming, including Monsanto, Cargill and DuPont.

“America needs a secretary of agriculture who will bring investment and economic opportunity to family farmers and rural communities,” the progressive groups said in their selection of Pingree as their top choice for the post.

“By investing in local and regional food systems that support farmers, agricultural workers, healthy soil, and climate resilience, the next secretary of agriculture can ensure economic security while advancing our fight against climate change.”

Most commonly touted as Biden’s likely choice to be secretary of agriculture, though, is former U.S. Sen. Hedi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who campaigned for Biden and has many friends in the Senate, making it likely she would face fewer hurdles over her confirmation.

Bloomberg names Pingree as one of four members of the U.S. House with a shot at the job.

The others are U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Collin Peterson of Minnesota. Peterson lost his reelection bid while Bustos, as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, helped oversee a poor showing among Democratic House candidates.

Fudge told Cleveland.com that if Biden calls, she’s willing to serve.

The New York Times said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination, is also a possibility.

In addition, Successful Farming cites California state Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross and Delaware state Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse as potential picks.

Created by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, the Department of Agriculture has 29 agencies and offices with nearly 100,000 employees who work on issues involving food, agriculture, economic development, science, natural resource conservation and more.

There has only been one woman to hold the job of agriculture secretary: Ann Veneman, who served a term during President George W. Bush’s administration.

If Pingree moves to the Cabinet, the 1st District she’s represented since 2009 would have a vacancy.

Under state law, vacancies for a congressional seat require the governor “as soon as reasonably possible” to order a special primary election to choose candidates and then a special election to fill the open seat.

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