Democrat John Norris leaving agency for USDA job in Italy

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, August 8, 2014

John Norris, a Democratic member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, plans to step down Aug. 20 to take a position as minister-counselor for the Department of Agriculture in Rome, cutting short his five-year term at the agency.

Norris, who spent more than three decades running high-profile political campaigns in his home state of Iowa, said during an interview that he will work with the United Nations’ food agriculture program at the department.

“It’s a great opportunity, I’m looking forward to it. We’ll probably move at the end of the month,” he said.

Norris, who has a deep knowledge of agricultural, energy and political issues, said he looks forward to working with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Norris was nominated by President Obama to fill the remainder of another commissioner’s term at FERC in 2010 and reconfirmed in 2012, and his current term is slated to run through June 2017.

In the 1990s, Norris was tapped to serve as chief of staff for then-Iowa Gov. Vilsack (D) and said during an interview that he hit it off with Vilsack and helped him assemble a legislative and policy team. Norris was serving as chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party at the time (Greenwire, April 15, 2013).

Norris also has been a highly sought-after campaign organizer. He and his wife, Jackie — the former chief of staff for Michelle Obama — have even been dubbed Iowa’s premier power couple.

When asked what his wife would do in Italy, Norris joked that she plans to “eat pasta” and do all things Italian.

Norris made headlines earlier this year when he blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for blocking his bid to become chairman of FERC. Norris accused Reid of blocking his nomination for being too “pro-coal.”

Speculation is high that the White House will soon tap National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners President Colette Honorable to a seat on the commission.