New Name Surfaces As Trump Looks for Ag Secretary01/05/2017
There’s another name in the mix for the job of Agriculture Secretary in the Trump administration.
Former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado was scheduled to talk to Trump about the job today at the president-elect’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on a conference call.
Trump on Wednesday also interviewed Elsa Murano, an ex-USDA official and former president of Texas A&M University whose name surfaced last week as a potential boss at USDA. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller will meet on Friday with Reince Preibus, Trump’s designated chief of staff, and Steve Bannon, who will be his chief White House strategist.
Spicer did not say when Trump planned to announce his choice, one of four Cabinet-level positions – including U.S. Trade Representative – the real estate mogul-turned politician has yet to fill. Spicer said he anticipates Trump will be making additional announcements before the weekend “on at least one or two of the outstanding four.”
Maldonado is the eldest son of immigrant Mexican farm workers who turned a half-acre strawberry farm in Santa Maria, California, into a 60,000-acre farm employing hundreds of workers and shipping produce around the world.
At one time Maldonado was a rising star in the GOP, and he served in both the state Assembly and Senate. Following an unsuccessful bid for state controller in 2006, he was appointed lieutenant governor in 2009 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. After losing in the race for lieutenant governor in 2010, Maldonado unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 and briefly ran for governor in 2014 before dropping out.
Maldonado and his family’s business, Agro-Jal Farming Enterprises, have been accused of failing to pay overtime wages and providing meal and rest periods to their workers. Maldonado said he left the business in 2012, while running for Congress, amid allegations that Agro-Jal owed more than $100,000 in taxes. According to press reports, Agro-Jal also accumulated dozens of Cal/OSHA violations and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines while Maldonado served as the farm’s controller.
Earlier this year, Maldonado reportedly was trying to break into the reality TV world, something that Trump knows a thing or two about. The Sacramento Bee reported in June that a reality-style video compilation with the apparent working title of “Meet the Maldonados” was making its way around the internet. Brandon Gesicki, a friend and longtime adviser, said Maldonado was legally prohibited from talking about the enterprise, but he called the segments he’s witnessed “quite entertaining.”