If former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is confirmed as the next Secretary of Agriculture, he’ll be working closely with a fellow Democrat — Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Ag Committee. Bill Northey, a Republican who is the State of Iowa’s Ag Secretary, says having Iowans in those two D.C. jobs is valuable.
“They certainly have a good working relationship as well, so I think both will benefit by having the other in the other office there. I’m sure there’ll be conversation between staff,” Northey says. “Certainly it’s valuable to have Iowa know that a couple of folks who are making decisions there have an understanding of Iowa agriculture.”
Vilsack is an attorney — and Northey raises corn and soybeans on his farm near Spirit Lake. Northey says, for him, Vilsack’s lack of on-the-farm experience isn’t a stumbling block. “Any secretary stepping into the USDA has a lot to learn. It’s a big agency. There’s the forest service to food stamps, from conservation to farm support programs and trade, so I think everybody has a lot to learn,” Northey says. “(Vilsack) is a quick study. I’m sure that he will pick it up very quickly. It always nice to have someone who’s spent their life in agriculture (serving as ag secretary), but I think he’ll do a good job figuring it out pretty quickly.”
Northey held a town hall meeting in Humboldt this morning and he found folks “excited” to have an Iowan as ag secretary. “We’re the number two ag state in the country,” Northey says. “It certainly makes sense to have an Iowan as secretary of agriculture. I think it also gives us access. Certainly we hope we don’t see what we saw during this last year in flooding and natural disasters, but it’s important to have somebody that will take your phone calls if you do have those kinds of issues.”
It’s been nearly a century since Iowans held the two posts of ag secretary and Senate Ag Committee chairman simultaneously. Iowan James Wilson — he went by the nickname “Tama Jim” — was the U.S. Ag Secretary for 16 years around the turn of the 20th century. In 1909 and 1910, Iowa Senator Jonathan Dolliver was chairman of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee while Wilson was ag secretary. If the U.S. Senate confirms Vilsack for the job, he will become the fifth Iowan to serve as U.S. Ag Secretary.