As Governor Tom Vilsack exits the office tomorrow when a new governor is sworn in, his lieutenant governor will be replaced as well. In the summer of 1998, Tom Vilsack made the surprise announcement that Sally Pederson of Des Moines would be his running mate. “It was a life-changing moment, absolutely,” Pederson says.
Pederson, who grew up in Vinton, had never before held elective office. She’d been a food editor at Meredith, but left that job after the birth of an autistic son. Pederson’s spent much of her adulthood working as a volunteer. Pederson says Vilsack convinced her she could be part of his team. “I have to say it was a sort of great leap of faith, but it has been an incredibly positive experience,” Pederson says.
The lieutenant governor says Vilsack allowed her to work on issues she cares deeply about, such as the successful effort to pass a state law that requires insurance companies to cover treatment for mental illness. The bill signing ceremony was held in Pederson’s office at the statehouse. “All of the people who were present for that — it was really a wonderful thing to have families here with their children, people who have mental illness and face a lot of challenges and struggles and need to have insurance coverage,” Pederson says.
According to Pederson, she got involved in the nitty-gritty mechanics of making state government work and learned a lot in the process. Pederson also got heavily involved in party politics, serving as the Iowa Democratic Party’s chair and CEO in the last election cycle.
In February, Pederson and her husband, Jim Autry, will be going on a trip to celebrate their 25th anniversary. After that, Pederson says she expects to make an announcement about what new direction her life will take. “I am confident that I am going to find other things that will challenge me personally and ways that I can continue to contribute to this state that I love so much,” Pederson says.
Patty Judge, a former state senator who just served eight years as Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, will be sworn in Friday to take Pederson’s place as lieutenant governor.