Sam Clovis may not have much science experience, but he has a direct line to President Trump — and that could be good for agricultural research, an unlikely ally said yesterday.
Clovis — whom Trump this week picked to lead the Agriculture Department's research, education and economics efforts — has a fan in Kellye Eversole, president of Eversole Associates, a Maryland agricultural science and technology consulting firm and a former volunteer for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
"The criteria should be leadership and whether they have the chutzpah to get things done," said Eversole, who added that she's met with Clovis more than once to discuss agricultural research and believes he is committed to that cause.
Clovis' lack of science background is emerging as a flashpoint in his expected nomination. Democratic senators, including ranking member Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, have started lining up against Clovis. The Union of Concerned Scientists also weighed in against him.
Among other complaints, they said his lack of science background appears to violate the multiyear farm bill, which calls for the undersecretary slot to be filled with "distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics."
Clovis, from Iowa, is a former conservative talk radio host and economics professor who was co-chairman and policy adviser on Trump's campaign, particularly on farm policy. He's been serving as a liaison between the White House and the Department of Agriculture.
His skepticism about climate change science has also drawn criticism from Democrats and from some research organizations.
But Eversole said she's more concerned that USDA concentrate on research into helping crops adjust to weather-related challenges, no matter the root cause — and that Clovis, as a Trump confidante, is in a good position to promote it to the White House.
"If anyone can convince Trump that agricultural research is important, it's probably him," Eversole said.
Eversole's firm, which she founded in 1991, focuses on genetic research and has been working with USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on ways to safeguard against pest plants.
Stabenow, in a news release, said she has "strong concerns" that Clovis isn't qualified.
"This nominee seems to lack the necessary agricultural science and research qualifications that are required by the Farm Bill," Stabenow said. "I also have many questions about his troubling views on climate change and providing public investment in crop insurance and education."
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said in statement, "The USDA is critical in helping provide our farmers with the information they need to improve plant and animal resilience, be more effective stewards of their land, and adopt new technology and practices on their farms. This could all be at risk if the agency's head of science has no relevant scientific training and rejects current scientific thinking."
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture was subdued in its comments on Clovis, saying, "NASDA looks forward to working with USDA's Research, Education and Economics mission area under Dr. Clovis' leadership and helping further their mission of creating a safe, sustainable and competitive food and fiber system."
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