Longtime ag leader Rep. Charlie Stenholm dies

Texas Democrat served as ag committee ranking member for eight years.

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

May 18, 2023

2 Min Read
University of Arkansas/Ryan McGeeney

Former House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm died May 17 at his home in Granbury, Tex. He was 84 years old.

Stenholm was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1979. He served 13 terms and was one of the last conservative-leaning Democrats to hold national office in Texas. He lost his bid for another term in 2004 after the Republican-led Texas Legislature redrew the state’s congressional map, putting him in a heavily GOP-leaning district.

During the 1980s, Stenholm joined a block of Southern Democrats known as the “Boll Weevils” that supported Republican fiscal policy. Later as a founder and co-chair of the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, Stenholm earned praise for his ability to reach across the aisle and help craft bipartisan legislation.

From 1997 to 2005, Stenholm served as Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee. During that time, he chaired multiple subcommittees. Following the news of his passing, current Committee Chair GT. Thompson, R- Pa., and Ranking Member David Scott, D- Ga., issued a joint statement honoring his life and career.

"We are saddened to learn of the passing of Congressman Charles Stenholm, a distinguished public servant who dedicated more than 26 years of his life to the people of Texas and the United States,” Thompson and Scott said. “Charlie had an intimate understanding of American agriculture and a lifelong commitment to supporting rural communities. He will be greatly missed by many. Our hearts go out to his wife Cindy and his family. They will be in our prayers.”

Before running for Congress, Stenholm ran his family’s large cotton farm for many years while teaching vocational courses on the side. He and his wife, Cynthia Watson, had three children together. Stenholm was a charter trustee for the Cotton Producer Institute.

He remained active in agriculture following his time in public office. Stenholm worked as a lobbyist in Washington and taught agriculture courses as an adjunct professor at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Tex. Upon hearing of his passing, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called him “a true champion of American farmers and ranchers.”

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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