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Peterson doesn't want Ag Secretary job

By Don Davis

St. Paul Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - Collin Peterson heads overseas next week to discuss a complex financial regulation issue with European leaders.

In fact, he handles such difficult issues daily in his job as U.S. House Agriculture Committee chairman.

But one simple question has him stumped: Why do people who should know mention him almost daily as a potential Obama administration agriculture secretary?

The Hill newspaper, which covers Congress, is one of the latest to report he is in the running. But NBC News and other nationally known media have done likewise in recent days.

"Obama is considering Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., for the USDA post," the respected Washington, D.C., newspaper reported.

However, Peterson has been telling anyone who would listen - including Obama's transition team - that he is not interested and would not accept the job. He has said he has more power as committee chairman.

"I made it very clear I did not want an offer," he said Monday of his comments to Obama's staff.

And whenever he speaks to a group, which happens a lot as a powerful chairman, one of his lines is: "I guarantee you it is not going to be me."

The Obama people have not been hounding him to accept: "They have not contacted me. They have not sent me anything. They have not asked me anything."

Peterson speculated that maybe the Obama folks are using his name as a distraction: "They can use me to keep the focus off whoever they want to get in there."

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Monday she planned to call Peterson about the rumors. She understood he was not interested, but said he would make a good secretary.

Peterson said that when he took over the job as committee chairman, he noticed that people treated him differently, more like a Washington insider than a small-town Minnesota accountant.

At home, he said, "when I say something, that's it." In Washington, he added, "when you hear a national politician, I guess you don't believe anything he says."