Sources tell Radio Iowa former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack will be nominated to be the next U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Vilsack, a two-term governor who ran for president before endorsing Hillary Clinton’s quest for the White House, will be formally introduced tomorrow as President-elect Barack Obama’s pick for the top job at the U.S.D.A.
Jeff Link, an Iowa-based political consultant, managed Vilsack’s three-month-long presidential campaign. "I just think it’s great news for Iowa," Link said, by phone, as he changed planes in the Detroit airport. "…He’s going to do a great job."
Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Cumming, Iowa, who serves as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committe, says he’s "delighted" Obama has selected Vilsack. "This is great news for Iowa, great news for our country," Harkin said during a telephone interview with Radio Iowa. "I think Tom Vilsack is going to be just the right person at the right time for agriculture."
Vilsack is the fourth from the field of Democratic presidential hopefuls who are expected to serve in the Obama administration. "What it says about Obama that he surrounds himself with former rivals and people who supported Hillary Clinton is that he’s sure of himself and he’s not afraid to have people around him who may give him different advice or may not just be saying, ‘Yes,’ to him all the time but who will give him their best judgement and their advice," Harkin said by telephone from Washington, D.C., "and I know I can trust Tom Vilsack to do that."
If confirmed by the senate for the job, Vilsack would be the third governor in a row to serve as the nation’s ag secretary. "None of them before him were active farmers, either. I think what’s important is do you understand agriculture; do you have a good feel for it and do you understand the problems that family farmers have and what we need to do to make agriculture profitable in the future?" Harkin said. "I can tell you that Tom Vilsack does understand agriculture. He knows it and he knows what needs to be done."
Iowa’s other U.S. Senator — Republican Chuck Grassley, says "without a doubt" Vilsack is qualified for the post. "Soon after the election (Vilsack) was mentioned for secretary of agricultre. I was disappointed when maybe three weeks later (Vilsack) said he wasn’t in the running and now — surprise! — he’s been named," Grassley said during a Tuesday night telephone interview with Radio Iowa. "Obviously it’s good for him. He wants to continue in public service. It’s good for Iowa. It’s good for the institution of the family farm — much better for Midwestern agriculture than having somebody from California or the southeast where agriculture’s different."
Grassley doesn’t expect Vilsack to have problems winning senate confirmation for the job. "(Nominees) go through an awful vetting process. Everything you’ve done in your life is reviewed by the president before they’re nominated. Then you go through FBI (checks); then the ag committee will send him a big, thick questionnaire," Grassley said. "You know, unless something unexpected shows up in some of those, he’s not going to have any trouble."
Both Grassley and Harkin cite Vilsack’s work, as governor, to expand wind energy and the biofuels industry since rural economic development is part of the ag secretary’s mission. "This tracks very well with what I know from my conversations with Barack Obama about what he wants in a secretary of agriculture," Harkin told Radio Iowa Tuesday night, "so I think it’s a good fit."
Political consultant Matt Paul served as a press secretary to Vilsack during Vilsack’s tenure as governor. "The governor is someone who I think is happiest when he is deeply involved in policy," Paul said during a telephone interview with Radio Iowa on Tuesday night. "…I think he’s going to be an excellent secretary of agriculture."
Vilsack, a native of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, moved to his wife’s hometown of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, after his graduation from law school to practice law with his father-in-law. He was elected the town’s mayor after a shooting spree at a Mount Pleasant City Council meeting killed the previous mayor. Vilsack later was elected to the state senate. He became the first Democrat to win Iowa’s governorship in 30 years when Vilsack beat Republican rival Jim Lightfoot in 1998. Vilsack won re-election in 2002, but did not seek re-election in 2006, keeping a promise to serve just two terms.
Governor Chet Culver, the man who succeeded Vilsack as governor, issued a prepared statement at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. "This is a great honor for Iowa and a great choice for America. Tom Vilsack brings deep experience as a Governor and as someone who understands agriculture, renewable energy, and rural development," Culver said. "I commend President-elect Obama for his choice. I want to extend my sincere congratulations to Governor Vilsack, and I look forward to working with him as Secretary of Agriculture."
Earlier, former Iowa Congressman Jim Nussle — a Republican who’s currently serving as director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Bush Administration — issued a prepared statement praising Vilsack. "Just like all Iowans, I was proud to hear that fellow Iowan and former Governor Tom Vilsack will be nominated to become the next Secretary of Agriculture," Nussle said. "It has been a honor for me to serve on the President’s cabinet and I know Tom will do a fine job continuing to represent Iowans as he begins his service to the nation. I congratulate him and send him best wishes for success."
Nussle is the first Iowan to serve in a cabinet position since Henry Wallace served as ag secretary more than 60 years ago.
The longest-serving U.S. Secretary of Agriculture was an Iowan. James "Tama Jim" Wilson was ag secretary from 1897 to 1913, serving under Presidents McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and Taft and setting the record for longevity in a cabinet office with his 16 years of service. Another Iowan — Edwin T. Meredith — followed shortly after, for a short stint as ag secretary from 1920 to ’21.
Two other Iowans — a father and son — served as ag secretary as well. Henry C. Wallace served as ag secretary for three years, for presidents Harding and Coolidge. His son, Henry A. Wallace, was Franklin Roosevelt’s agriculture secretary during the Great Depression. The younger Wallace went on to serve one term as Roosevelt’s vice president before being replaced by Harry Truman. Henry A. Wallace founded "Wallace’s Farmer" and his son founded Pioneer Hi-Bred.