Support Local Journalism


Nampa native Rudy Soto has been named the new United States Department of Agriculture rural development director for Idaho by President Joe Biden, a federal position in Idaho that previously was held by Donald Trump appointee Layne Bangerter.

Each state has a rural development director, responsible for overseeing an array of programs authorized by the congressional Farm Bill to aid rural communities in areas ranging from energy, water and broadband to credit, tribal outreach and food programs. USDA Rural Development also provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities in rural areas, from infrastructure to business development to home ownership to public safety.

Soto pronounced himself “grateful” for the appointment in a tweet, and said, “I look forward to raising my right hand for an oath of office again and working hard for rural Idahoans from all walks of life.”

Soto will be sworn in on Tuesday.

Soto, 36, was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District in 2020; he lost to current GOP Rep. Russ Fulcher, who won re-election with 67.8% of the vote in a four-way race. Soto, who was making his first run for office, earlier won the Democratic primary with 65.8% of the vote over rival Staniela Nikolova.

Soto was born and raised in Nampa and is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and the son of a Mexican immigrant. A first-generation college graduate, he also is a veteran of the Army National Guard.

Most recently, Soto worked for Western Leaders Network, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of local and tribal elected officials across the Interior West focused on protecting public lands, water and air.

He previously served as a legislative staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives, dealing with energy, environment, agriculture, education, transportation, and tribal issues. He also has been a legislative fellow, a policy analyst for the National Council of Urban Indian Health, and legislative director for the National Indian Gaming Association.

Soto has been active this year in advocating for minority representation in Idaho’s redistricting process. He also is the Idaho Democratic Party Native American Caucus co-chair and a board member of the League of Minority Voters.

When he ran for Congress, Soto traveled the 1st District, which stretches from the Canadian border to the Nevada state line, visiting every county in a campaign-decorated RV over the course of two months during his campaign.

A Portland State University graduate, Soto spent five and a half years in field artillery with the Oregon Army National Guard, and served four years as a military policeman with the District of Columbia National Guard.

The Biden administration announced Soto’s appointment late Thursday, along with another key federal appointment in Idaho: Matt Gellings of Idaho Falls was named the new Farm Services Administration executive director for Idaho.

That position was previously held by Tom Dayley, a former GOP Idaho state representative, Air Force veteran, and longtime agricultural official who also had served in that role decades earlier.

Gellings is a fourth-generation farmer who produces alfalfa, wheat, malt barley and potatoes, and also has maintained a cattle operation for 26 years; he’s served on Idaho’s Farm Service Agency State Committee for 12 years. He’s also served as president of the Bonneville County Grain Producers, the Eastern Idaho Ag Hall of Fame, and as chairman of the Leadership Idaho Agriculture Board of Trustees.

Both Idaho positions have been filled by acting directors since the change of administration, pending the new appointments.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

Recommended for you

Load comments