McMillan deserves agriculture commissioner seat

2014 Election Endorsement

McMillan deserves agriculture commissioner seat

Posted: Friday, October 24, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 6:46 pm, Sun Oct 26, 2014.

THE ISSUE: John McMillan, the incumbent Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, performed well in his first term, despite budgetary challenges, harmful legislation and tornadoes. He deserves a second term.

The position of commissioner of state Agriculture and Industries is a low-profile job that rarely requires much attention from the politician who occupies the seat. The commissioner supervises an agency with responsibilities for food safety, animal and plant health, meat inspection, livestock markets and inspections of retail gasoline pumps.

Republican John McMillan won his first term in 2010, but the Legislature, Mother Nature and the economy conspired to complicate his job. McMillan was up to the task, and we endorse him for a second term.

The combination of a faltering economy and a state Legislature that lacks the backbone to implement tax reform meant McMillan, 73, faced unusual financial pressures. The Legislature’s 2011 passage of an ill-considered anti-immigration law — most of which has since collapsed under the weight of the U.S. Constitution — created unique problems for the state’s farmers. That problem, too, landed on McMillan’s plate, and he handled it with more candor than might be expected of an elected official.

McMillan’s first task was to trim his underfunded department. He cut the department’s workforce from 400 to 300 and outsourced two money-losing farmers markets to other operators. He also transferred management of a Montgomery coliseum to a community board.

By itself, the cut in employees would have undermined one of the primary responsibilities of the commissioner: inspecting gas pumps. Inspections were behind when McMillan entered office, and they quickly fell further behind with the cuts.

Rather than moan about his budget, McMillan came up with a plan. Beginning this month, gas stations will bring in private registered agents to conduct the annual inspections that state employees did before state budget cuts. Instead of inspecting all pumps, state employees will do spot checks to ensure accuracy.

In April 2011, McMillan’s job got tougher. Millions of chickens died in the tornadoes that ravaged Alabama, creating a risk of disease. McMillan coordinated the unpleasant task of quickly disposing of the animals.

As disastrous as the April 2011 tornadoes were for Alabama farmers, the fallout from the Legislature’s politically motivated immigration law may have been worse. Before federal courts could dissect the law, immigrants — both legal and undocumented — fled the state.

While we fault McMillan for not speaking against the legislation before it passed, he at least spoke with nonpartisan honesty about its devastating consequences. Vegetables were “rotting on the vine,” he said publicly, because legislators failed to understand how important immigrants were to the state’s farmers.

Farmers’ efforts to recruit non-immigrants for the back-breaking work of harvesting crops were a bust, and McMillan was not shy about describing their predicament.

Democrat Doug Smith, 79, is McMillan’s opponent. He has considerable governmental experience, including a stint as an aide to former Gov. Lurleen B. Wallace, when he was instrumental in establishing the Alabama Development Office to recruit industry. He went on to have a career in cable television, including serving as president of the Alabama Cable TV Association.

Smith said his focus would be less on agriculture than on recruiting industry. While he may have a knack for industrial recruitment, the state has plenty of officials who already perform the function.

McMillan, who previously served as a Baldwin County commissioner, state representative, state conservation commissioner and executive vice president of the Alabama Forestry Association, handled unusual challenges with finesse in his first term. He deserves a second term overseeing the Department of Agriculture and Industries. For his sake and the state’s, we hope his second term is fraught with fewer storms, both of the natural and legislative varieties.

Coming Sunday: U.S. House Fifth District


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