OLYMPIA — Washington Agriculture Director Bud Hover announced his resignation Monday, the day before a Senate committee planned to have a confirmation hearing on his appointment.
But Hover’s path to confirmation may not have been smooth.
“The agency is a mess,” said Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, a member of the Senate Agriculture, Water and Rural Economic Development Committee, which was to hold the hearing.
Honeyford and Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, sharply criticized the department last fall for working on legislation to regulate manure spreading on crop land without involving lawmakers and farm groups.
Honeyford said that was “somewhat” of a problem for Hover with senators.
“But I really think (the problem) was the whole agency,” he said.
Honeyford declined to go into further specifics. Schoesler was not available for comment Tuesday morning.
Hover’s appointment, though made two years ago by Gov. Jay Inslee, had never been confirmed by the Senate. Under Washington law, a gubernatorial appointment can serve unless rejected by the Senate.
The committee chairwoman, Moses Lake Republican Judy Warnick, said Monday the hearing had long been scheduled.
Efforts to reach Hover for comment were unsuccessful.
Warnick said Hover has made contributions while head of WSDA, particularly in the area of the agency’s ability to trace animal diseases.
“I have seen good work come out of his office,” she said.
Industry members were looking ahead to who might replace Hover, who said in a letter to the governor that his last day will be at the end of the current legislative session.
Mike Gempler, executive director of Washington Growers League in Yakima and who served on Inslee’s transition advisory committee when he became governor, said he’s sorry to see Hover go.
“From a labor perspective, he did a good job,” Gempler said.
There were other good candidates that the governor could turn to now, Gempler said of the field of prospects that were considered when Hover was appointed.
“To have someone who has run a farm business or has been in the industry an extended period of time is a really important qualification,” Gempler said. “That’s something that’s irreplaceable, but maybe someone else extraordinarily talented would do a good job. The administration would be better served by someone who comes from the industry.”
Nicole Berg, past president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers and a Paterson, Wash., wheat farmer, said Hover will be missed.
“Bud served the wheat industry wholeheartedly,” Berg said.
Hover had big issues to deal with, Berg said, citing avian bird flu, port issues and a dispute between grain exporters United Grain Co. and Columbia Grain Co., and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
State grain inspectors needed police escorts to cross ILWU picket lines to enter facilities to inspect grain. The state patrol escorted inspectors for eight months. The wheat industry criticized Inslee for pulling the troopers and grain inspectors, putting pressure on the companies to settle with the union.
“I think he put his heart into the job,” Berg said of Hover. “It’ll be sad to see him go.”
Berg hopes Hover’s replacement will, like Hover, be a farmer.
In his resignation, Hover cited family needs, including caring for his aging father-in-law, as reasons to return to his family farm near Winthrop in the Methow Valley of Okanogan County.
Hover lost a re-election bid as a Republican county commissioner in Okanogan County in 2012 before he was appointed by Inslee, a Democrat, on April 1, 2013.
“I believe we have made great strides in the past two years in advancing new and innovative solutions to help solve some of the pressing issues facing agriculture today as well as making great strides in improving efficiency in the department,” Hover wrote in his resignation letter to Inslee.
Inslee thanked Hover for his work.
“As a farmer himself, Bud has been a tireless advocate for the average farmer, making sure their concerns were heard at the highest levels of government,” Inslee said in a department news release.
“He provided key leadership in implementing a state of the art Animal Disease Traceability program that will better protect the state’s vital livestock industry and provided important guidance in the difficult situation we faced with issues at our ports.”
Capital Press staff writers Dan Wheat and Matthew Weaver contributed to this story.