Tom Vilsack was elected to the state Senate in 1992 and tackled complicated issues, like tinkering with the formula used to calculate how much businesses pay into the state’s unemployment compensation fund. Vilsack tried to find some middle ground in the brewing controversy over large-scale livestock operations. This how then-Senator Vilsack framed the issue during a speech on the Senate floor.
“If we are not interested in providing some degree of local control or joint control, then we have to give some safety valve to the pressure that builds up in the countryside when property’s being use and offensive odors occur to the point that someone’s enjoyment of their property or health is affected,” Vilsack said during that speech, saved in the Radio Iowa archives. Former state Senator Elaine Szymoniak of Des Moines sat next to Vilsack in the Senate.
“After he gave his first floor speech, I wrote him a note saying ‘There’ll be a time when I say I knew you when you began.'” Szymoniak said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “I didn’t really look ahead to a national scene, but I was pretty sure then that he’d be governor.”
Szymoniak says Vilsack quickly became a trusted ally who could broker deals on complicated issues. “And I went to him frequently when I knew things were going to have to be worked out and could talk it over with him,” Szymoniak said.
“He had a good way of bringing people together.” Thomas Fogarty, an editor at U-S-A Today who no longer writes about politics, was covering the Iowa Senate for the Des Moines Register during the years Vilsack was a senator. Fogarty, too, remembers Vilsack as a key negotiator.
“He was incredibly bright. He was incredibly talented on zeroing in on the points of potential compromise. He was extremely dilligent and he was extremely persuasive,” Fogarty said during a Radio Iowa interview. But Fogarty says it was apparent Vilsack did not suffer fools gladly.
“He has no patience for small talk and I always thought that in the long run he would be inhibited from advancement in politics because of his personality. And I see now I was wrong on that. You don’t get elected governor of Iowa twice and have a complete inability to deal with people,” Fogarty said. A review of Vilsack’s 1998 campaign for governor is next in Radio Iowa’s review of Tom Vilsack career.