Sen. Mike Johanns looks back fondly at his time as Secretary of Agriculture.
Johanns is retiring after 32 years in public office, including serving as the director of the United States Department of Agriculture under President George W. Bush.
“You know you’re in the cabinet room and there’s no higher board or commission or whatever to buck the issue up to,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network. “The cabinet is as high as it gets in our government and you’re there with the President and Vice President and other cabinet members. So, tremendous amount of pressure; very, very intense, but, also what a great honor.”
Johanns has served at every level of government: county, city, state, and federal.
Johanns says serving in the Bush Administration was one of the real highlights of his public career.
Johanns became Secretary of Agriculture in January of 2005, leaving the office of governor in Nebraska. Johanns says he had a good team at the USDA, which included several people he brought to Washington from Nebraska.
He says he became aware in short order of the significance of the office.
“And, wherever you go worldwide, when you speak, people listen, because you do represent the United States of America,” Johanns says. “And the power of that is huge. It is just unbelievable.”
Johanns says he was most proud of the USDA’s work to negotiate and pass trade agreements, especially the Central America Free Trade Agreement, which barely passed Congress. Johanns also hosted public forums on the Farm Bill, many of which he attended.
His time as Secretary of Agriculture began as beef producers were reeling over concerns about BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as Mad Cow Disease. Those concerns closed markets throughout the world to American beef. Johanns worked hard to re-open the markets and largely exceeded. He says the United States has nearly normalized trade in beef and the current Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has continued the efforts.
Johanns says he’s proud of how the USDA responded in wake of Hurricane Katrina. He remembers well the tragedy of Katrina, late in the summer of 2015.
“While many in the Bush Administration were being criticized, we were receiving accolades for the unbelievable way that we got in the middle of that very, very difficult time and got food and fresh water to people,” according to Johanns.
Johanns left the cabinet to successfully run for United States Senate. He steps down from public office this week after 32 years. He will be succeeded in the Senate by fellow Republican Ben Sasse.
AUDIO: Sen. Mike Johanns reflects on his years as Secretary of Agriculture. [6 min.]