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State ag director Rotary's guest speaker

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Washington State Director of the Department of Agriculture Dan Newhouse shares with Sunnyside Noon Rotarians the challenges and joys of his job.

After serving several terms as a 15th District Representative, Sunnyside's Dan Newhouse was tapped by Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire to serve as the Director of the Department of Agriculture.

Monday he told Sunnyside's Noon Rotary Club he enjoys his new job and, "I felt it was a position I could not ignore."

The position, the Rotary guest speaker said, has a "different scope of responsibilities" than serving as a representative in the state legislature. "I tell the governor I have the best job in the world," he shared.

He said it is different to have one individual he must please, Gov. Gregoire, versus several thousand. He also noted he now has approximately 170 individuals working for him, which is quite a few more than he had working for him as a state representative.

"They aren't all in Olympia...there are inspectors all over the state," Newhouse explained, stating the Department of Agriculture peaks at approximately 1,000 employees throughout the summer months.

He believes he is the first director of the department with a background in farming since the 1970s, when Stu Bledsoe served in the position.

"I think the governor wanted a farmer in the position," said Newhouse, stating he and Gov. Gregoire might disagree politically, but he admires her for reaching across the aisle to ensure the position was filled by the right individual for the job.

"I am one of 18 members in the governor's cabinet and I see my role as an advocate for the agricultural industry," said Newhouse.

He said he serves to provide strategic direction for the agency.

"I help make sure issues important to agriculture are at the forefront of other people's minds," explained Newhouse.

He told the Rotarians he wants individuals not working directly in the agricultural industry to understand where the products purchased in the supermarkets come from.

"I am working to educate people on agriculture and its impact on communities," shared Newhouse.

There have been a number of needs identified by his department, including "stumbling blocks like regulation." He said he is working to take steps toward overcoming the challenges farmers and the agricultural industry face, including the loss of land to development projects.

"We are losing land at an alarming rate...we need to double our production and protect resources to meet projected population growth," Newhouse said.

The challenges he is currently facing include the $2.6 billion revenue shortfall projected for the state.

"I am a fiscal conservative Republican and I believe this is a good thing...a chance for the state government to be as efficient as possible," Newhouse shared with the Rotarians.

He said he believes budget cuts and changes to how the government operates will be noticeable, especially in areas of education and low-income assistance.

The Department of Agriculture, said Newhouse, is also looking at ways in which it can cut programs that are not either constitutionally or statutorily required.

"As state funds shrink, there is more pressure on fee-generated services," Newhouse warned, stating inspections might cost more for the agricultural industry, adding all agencies in the state are working on reform.

In his position, he said, there are many opportunities and challenges. All of those opportunities and challenges, he added, make the position as Director of the Department of Agriculture enjoyable for Newhouse.

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