Larry Combest may have retired from Congress and as chairman of the House Ag Committee, but that doesn’t mean he’s been put out to pasture. Combest continues to work quietly, and often not so quietly, behind the scenes as a player in helping shape U.S. ag policy.

Part of that work is done through the Southwest Council of Agribusiness, an organization now four years old that helps people both inside and outside the D.C. Beltway understand the importance of agriculture in Texas and the Southwest, he told cattlemen attending the fall meeting of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association recently in Lubbock.

The idea behind the Southwest Council came from agricultural organizations encouraging businesses to take a more active role in supporting producers through an alliance that would advocate for strong U.S. farm policy, Combest says. It is represented in Washington by Combest and his partner, Tom Sell, former deputy chief of staff to the House Ag Committee.

Combest encouraged the cattlemen to get involved in keeping agriculture a healthy and viable part of the Southwest economy. “Someday we may wake up and we’re not selling any pickups because agriculture went away. Well, we’re going to try to keep that from happening.”

Work done by groups such as the Southwest Council and the individual ag producers they represent will be critical in the coming years, Combest said. “Having done this for more than 40 years in some form, shape or fashion, I’ve never seen it like it is today. We’re in unchartered waters,” he said of the current political landscape. And his analysis of the political landscape indicates a lot of politicians are very, very nervous.

That’s because voters are giving politicians, and the political process, a level of scrutiny never before seen. “Congress will be under more scrutiny since the election of 2010 through the 2012 cycle than they have ever been before.”

Which is saying something, given the level of voter discontent leading up to the 2010 mid-term elections. That election resulted in an historic turnover in the House of Representatives, where Republicans picked up 80-some seats. “We had a turnover in ’94 that changed the majority in the House,” Combest says. It also changed the balance of power in the lower chamber for the first time in 40 years. The seismic impact of the 2010 turnover was even bigger, he says.

“Not only do you have 80-something new members of the House of Representatives that are pretty beholden to their voters, you also have some more senior members, people who have been there for a significant period of time, who are looking over their shoulder more than they ever have before for fear of a potential primary opponent.”

And that’s just on the Republican side. The Democrats have their own set of concerns. A third of the Senate comes up for re-election every two years. For the 2012 election, there are nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans (22 to 9) who will have to justify their continued existence to voters. “And what we’re beginning to see, particularly those 22 Democrats, are going to try to distance themselves from Obama.”

That’s because two recent elections clearly indicted the mood of the American voter. “The election of Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey and the congressional election to replace Anthony Weiner in New York, those are some seriously strong liberal areas. And the liberals lost.”

Then there’s concern, particularly by those 22 Democratic Senators up for re-election, on how President Obama will respond. “His political advisors are probably going to tell him, stay with your base,” Combest says. “If he stays with his base, he pushes more government regulations, more government involvement, more government taxes, which will further alienate him from those members who are up for re-election and from the mainstream of the American public.”

Combest says there is little doubt that Republicans are going to at least pick up some Senate seats in 2012. “And there are some political analysts who will tell you there is a zero chance the Democrats will maintain the majority in the Senate.”

For information on the Southwest Council of Agribusiness, go to