State Sen. Jesernig Running Hard For Agriculture Secretary Position
KENNEWICK - State Sen. Jim Jesernig, D-Kennewick, is rounding up support among legislators and farm groups to become the next director of the state Department of Agriculture.
Gov. Mike Lowry has said he prefers the agriculture secretary be a farmer from Eastern Washington.
Jesernig, who met with Lowry last week, is a lawyer who has been a legislator for several years.
"The main issues facing agriculture now require building compromises and coalitions, whether it's water, power or opening new markets," Jesernig said.
The position came open Friday when Peter Goldmark resigned after just five months. Goldmark, an Okanogan rancher, said the job was taking too much time away from his family.
"We're going to be very diligent and take our time, but he'd be an absolutely outstanding candidate for that position," Lowry said of Jesernig.
He said many other names had been mentioned for the job.
Jesernig, 36, has been in the Legislature since 1987 and is the Senate majority floor leader. His legislative pay is $25,900 a year, plus expenses. The director's job pays $87,000.
Last year, Jesergnig lost a close race with Jay Inslee of Selah in the Democratic congressional primary for the 4th District. Inslee went on to win the seat.
In the past week, Jesernig has met with many of the major agricultural lobbying groups and said he has obtained the endorsement of the Washington Wine Institute.
Other farm interests, however, were critical of Jesernig during the just-finished legislative session.
He attempted to find a middle ground between growers and the United Farm Workers of Washington State on a bill that would have required farmers to recognize unions and establish bargaining procedures. He came under fire from both sides.
Peter Stemberg, spokesman for the Washington State Farm Bureau, said Jesernig's support for farm-labor legislation might make some farmers wary. But he said the industry may be able to look at the bigger picture.
"One advantage that he has is that he is familiar with the legislative process and knows how the system works," Stemberg said.
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