Troxler Hopes To Become Entrenched
During the Sodfather's heyday, you wondered why Republicans even tried. "Sodfather" was the moniker given to Jim Graham, who from 1964 to 2000 reigned as the state's commissioner of agriculture.
Graham ran unopposed just once. That election came four years after he received twice as many votes as his Republican opponent. His re-election bids weren't really in doubt in most of those other elections either.
North Carolinians, led by agricultural interests, have a fondness for keeping around agriculture commissioners who know their business and keep their noses clean.
So, in 2012, it is worth questioning whether Democrats will even bother in the future should Republican Steve Troxler win a third term, assuming he wants a fourth, fifth or sixth term.
Troxler is seeking re-election after facing a few bumps along the cart path during his second term in office.
The most significant of those bumps came when a top regulator in the department pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges involving tipping off a veterinarian at a Hoke County turkey plant that prosecutors were reviewing in an undercover video of suspected animal abuse.
Troxler faces Democrat Walter Smith, a Yadkin County poultry farmer, in this fall's election.
Smith enjoys the kind of credentials needed to challenge an established incumbent.
In addition to his farming background, he formerly worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture administering its programs in Yadkin County. He was also a vocational education teacher.
And he once served as mayor of the town of Boonville.
Smith says that background allows him to understand how federal and state agriculture policy work together.
The round of bad publicity suffered by the state Department of Agriculture hasn't gone unnoticed by Smith. One of the themes that he is emphasizing in his campaign is the enforcement of animal welfare laws.
Smith is also pledging to improve agricultural marketing, preserve the state's agricultural research stations, and reduce regulation. He wants the Department of Agriculture to be more responsive to farmers and consumers by creating an agency hotline to answer complaints.
His background and campaign pledges may not be enough to undo Troxler's support, gained through years as a Guilford County farmer involved with state and national agricultural policy groups. Limited polling has shown Troxler ahead of Smith by 8 to 12 percentage points.
Troxler is campaigning by emphasizing his work expanding export opportunities for farmers and improving food safety in the state.
He points out that the state has one of the top food safety labs in the country during his tenure.
He also says that preserving farmland from development will continue as a top priority.
Those accomplishments and pledges may be secondary to a wider goal.
Like Graham showed for more than three decades, winning and keeping the job of agriculture commissioner is about making the basic point to farmers and the agribusiness community that you have got their backs.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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