By DAN WHEAT
YAKIMA, Wash. -- The lone agriculture representative on Gov.-elect Jay Inslee's transition team says state Department of Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse has done an "excellent job" and that he has no hesitation recommending he continue in that role.
"But I'm not sure what Inslee wants, if he fits the profile. That's why it's important to have other names up for consideration and vetting," said Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League in Yakima.
Gempler is the only agriculture representative in the 34-member transition committee that includes politicians, labor union leaders and business, conservation, health and technology representatives.
The group is advising Inslee on cabinet appointments and will identify and advise him on key issues likely to come up early in his term.
Newhouse, a former Republican legislator and Yakima Valley farmer, serves Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire. Inslee is also a Democrat.
Gempler said he believes Newhouse wants to stay in the job. He said it's important to have a director with experience as a farmer with a good grasp of ag issues and who is forceful and effective as an ag advocate.
Since farmers pay fees for department services it is important to have services delivered well and Newhouse has done that, Gempler said.
People spoke well of Newhouse at a recent agriculture legislative summit attended by 30 groups, Gempler said.
"I heard from executives and lobbyists there and there is tremendous support for Director Newhouse," Gempler said. "There are detractors on issues and everyone has weak spots, but overall he's done a very good job at containing costs and serving the industry."
The position could be decided in early January, he said.
Gempler said he loves his current job, sees himself continuing in that but is open to working with Inslee in any capacity.
Gempler, 55, has been director of the Growers League for 25 years. It represents growers in state and national farm labor issues including farmworker housing, temporary guestworker programs and labor regulations.
Other cabinet posts that are important to agriculture that Gempler will have a voice in are directors of Labor and Industry, Employment Security, Commerce and Ecology. The committee also will recommend directors of commissions including Fish and Wildlife.