Fisher could be out as Agriculture Secretary

The election of a Republican governor raises some interesting questions about the future of New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher, a Democrat who resigned his seat in the State Assembly earlier this year to take the job. Past agriculture secretaries have not been as political as Fisher, who was out on the campaign trail for Democrats this fall. Gov.-elect Christopher Christie may ask him to resign as part of the change of control of state government, but it's not certain that Fisher will go easily.

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. Fisher could be out as Agriculture Secretary