Fisher will stump for Scalera and Schaer

New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher will join two Democratic legislators in a competitive re-election campaign during an appearance

New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher will join two Democratic legislators in a competitive re-election campaign during an appearance at the Rutherford Farmers Market next week. Assemblymen Frederick Scalera (D-Nutley) and Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) will join with Fisher to "highlight the availability of Jersey Fresh produce."

Fisher, a former four-term Democratic Assemblyman, becomes the first state agriculture official to boost legislators during an election season. In the past, the state Secretary of Agriculture has largely stayed clear of partisan politics. The Department of Agriculture has twelve years worth of press release available on their website; not reflect election year political activity by the Secretary.

There should be no real over reaction to this: it's not like the presence of the Cumberland County Democrat will influence pro-farming independents in Nutley and North Arlington.

Willard Allen, Philip Alampi, Arthur Brown and Charles Kuperus, the four Agriculture secretaries who have served since 1938, did not do campaign swings. In 2003, Kuperus, who was a Republican Freeholder from Sussex County, went on the campaign trail in support of Gov. James E. McGreevey's farmland preservation ballot referendum. But Kuperus did not include legislators in his appearances.

New Jersey has one of the most powerful governorships in the nation, but on agricultural issues, the Governor has relatively little clout – the result of a deal with South Jerseyans to gain political support for the ratification of the 1947 State Constitution. As a result, the Governor has limited say on the appointment of one member of his or her cabinet, the Secretary of Agriculture, and even takes direction from an agricultural trade association on the appointments of policy-makers. This is a throwback to the old days when state boards exercised considerable power, especially in the areas of health, education, the environment, and alcoholic beverage control.

The eight members of the New Jersey Board of Agriculture are elected by members of the agriculture community at the State Agricultural Convention. By tradition, the Governor then appoints the choices of the convention to four-year terms on the Board, with the consent of the State Senate. The Board sets policies that direct the Secretary of Agriculture and the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. By law, the top four commodity groups in the state – based on a "two year average of the gross value of production," according to the department website – are entitled to seats on the Board

The Board also nominates the Secretary of Agriculture (SOA), who becomes a cabinet member with the Governor's approval. Unlike other cabinet posts, where the Commissioner runs the department, the SOA is essentially the secretary to the Board.

New Jersey's first Secretary of Agriculture was Alva Agee, an agriculture professor at Rutgers who was named when Gov. James Fielder created the state Department of Agriculture in 1916. Agee remained in office until 1925. He was followed by William Duryee, whose main clout came as a member of the state Milk Control Board.

Allen, a farmer from Hunterdon County, became Secretary of Agriculture in 1938 and held that post until his retirement in 1956. He was replaced by Alampi, a former TV farm reporter for ABC and NBC in New York. Alampi served from 1956 until his retirement in 1982, making him the longest serving member of the Governor's cabinet in state history.

 

Alampi's successor was Brown, the Atlantic County Agricultural Agent who was picked at the suggestion of Gov. Thomas Kean, at the suggestion of then-Assemblyman William Gormley. Brown stayed until 2002, and was replaced by Kuperus.

Fisher will stump for Scalera and Schaer