Kosciusko County farm operator Kip Tom confirmed Wednesday that he is among prospective candidates for nomination as secretary of agriculture by President-elect Donald Trump.
Tom said he has had conversations with members of Trump’s transition team but declined to divulge what those talks entailed.
"I’m both humbled and honored to be considered, and if asked to serve, I will serve," he said Wednesday night in a phone interview.
Tom, 61, is chief executive officer of Leesburg-based Tom Farms, which grows corn and soybeans in seven northern Indiana counties. He finished a close second in this year’s Republican primary election for northeast Indiana’s seat in the U.S. House.
He is among at least nine Hoosiers who have been mentioned as prospective members of Trump’s Cabinet. It’s little wonder considering Vice President-elect Mike Pence is Indiana’s governor, a former member of Congress and the head of Trump’s transition team.
Even if Trump would fail to nominate anybody from Indiana as the secretary of a federal department, he will need to fill an estimated 4,000 administation jobs, said Joe Losco, chairman of the political science department at Ball State University.
Pence "knows how the system works, he knows the people and of course he’s closest to those in Indiana, he knows them best," Losco said Wednesday. "It’s highly likely that we’ll see a number of Hoosiers elevated to prominent positions" in Trump’s administration.
Michael Wolf, chairman of the political science department at IPFW, said that because real estate developer Trump lacks government experience, "the Rolodex that Mike Pence has is key" to administrative appointments.
Trump "will rely heavily on Pence’s connections, and a lot of those are from Indiana," Wolf said. He said that Pence is "going to have a major ability to choose who’s going to be where" in the next administration.
Tom was a member of the board of directors of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. under Pence and his predecessor, former governor Mitch Daniels. Tom left the board last year to run for Congress.
Asked whether he would accept a secondary leadership post with the Department of Agriculture if he is not nominated to be its secretary, Tom replied, "If I’m asked to serve, if I am called to duty, I will do it.
"I believe it’s time to contribute and make sure that we don’t get in the way of innovation and creativity in our country," Tom said, an apparent reference to federal regulations affecting farmers and ranchers.
About 80 percent of the USDA’s $140 billion budget goes for nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. Tom said he believes the Agriculture Department, which has 120,000 employees, should help "those that can’t feed themselves."
Politico and the Huffington Post have reported that Tom is among at least 11 people under consideration for ag secretary, including three other Hoosiers: Mike McCloskey, chief executive officer of Fair Oaks Farms, a dairy operation near Rensselaer; Ted McKinney, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture; and former Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock.
Tom, McCloskey and McKinney were members of a committee that advised the Trump campaign on agriculture policy.
Other prospective Trump administration nominees from Indiana reportedly include Carol Comer, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and Forrest Lucas, founder of Lucas Oil Products. Comer is a candidate to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Lucas is said to be under consideration for secretary of the Interior Department.
Three names floated for secretary of the Education Department are Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th; Tony Bennett, former Indiana superintendent of public instruction; and Daniels, the president of Purdue University and a former two-term governor. Daniels told the Lafayette Courier & Journal that he has no interest in the job.
Pence’s influence on the Trump transition team stems in large part from his 12-year career in Congress, IPFW’s Wolf said. As someone who had been part of the House Republican leadership team as well as a member of the conservative tea party caucus, Pence "has tentacles in a lot of different areas of the party," Wolf said.
Losco said Trump "is not an animal of the Republican Party. … As an outsider, he has to rely on insiders in order to help him fill out his roster."