Story updated at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 29
Santa Maria farmer and former mayor Abel Maldonado met with President-elect Donald Trump at his Palm Beach Mar-A-Lago resort Dec. 28 to discuss Maldonado’s potential nomination as agriculture secretary, according to newspaper reports.
Maldonado was lieutenant governor to Arnold Schwarzenegger from 2010 to 2011 after being elected to the California Assembly in 1998 and the state Senate in 2004. His bid for California state controller in 2006 failed, as did campaigns for Congress and governor in later years.
Maldonado currently co-owns Runway Vineyards in Santa Maria with his daughter, Erika Maldonado, and attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, studying crop science and agribusiness.
“It can’t hurt to have someone in Washington who’s intimately familiar with the kind of agriculture we practice in California and on the Central Coast,” said John Krist, CEO of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County. “Too often, federal agriculture policy is skewed toward the needs of major commodity producers in the South and the Midwest. What we do here is far more complex, diverse and labor-intensive, and it would be helpful to see our needs reflected in the policies and legislation coming out of D.C.”
Santa Barbara County 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam, a fifth-generation Santa Maria Valley farmer, said he thinks Maldonado would be an excellent choice for secretary of agriculture.
“He has worked in the field as a youngster, built a major agribusiness from the ground up, been elected to numerous public offices at both local and state levels and ascended to lieutenant governor,” Adam said. “Another reason that he could be very good is that he knows California ag and our issues. Overregulation and labor issues are something that Mr. Trump will quickly grasp if he gets the right advice and information.”
If appointed to the cabinet, Maldonado would be the only Latino to be nominated, with only the positions of secretary of veterans affairs, U.S. trade representative and director of national intelligence left to be filled.
If selected, Maldonado could be the second member of Trump’s cabinet from the Central Coast. Trump nominated Andy Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants and subsidiaries Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s based in Carpinteria, for labor secretary.
The current secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, heads a department that includes 29 agencies and has a budget of around $149 billion.
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