Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is scheduled to appear before the U.S. Senate’s Ag Committee this morning, part of the process of winning senate confirmation to the post of U.S. Ag Secretary.
Vilsack settled in his wife’s hometown of Mount Pleasant after he graduated from law school and has called the southeast Iowa city his hometown. State Representative Dave Heaton lives in Mount Pleasant. "At coffees — at least the coffees that I’ve been going to — we’re real excited about him having an opportunity to be the secretary of agriculture," Heaton says.
Heaton is a Republican who went to the rally Vilsack held in Mount Pleasant in December of 2006 to launch his presidential campaign. Heaton says Vilsack’s presidential campaign brought positive national attention to Mount Pleasant, and to Iowa, and that’s why he was there. "I mean, you’ve got to think of the State of Iowa first before you start thinking about parties. The only thing that we’re kind of concerned about is is we want to know where he’s going to be getting his lessons on how to put the corn in and how to take it out," Heaton says, with a laugh, "if you know what I mean."
Vilsack is not a farmer. He practiced law before entering politics. When he was a state senator, Vilsack often was seen eating at a Des Moines restaurant, pouring over papers — an example of "policy wonk" tendencies. "Absolutely — always wanted to look like he was thinking and I think he was," Heaton says. "We’re excited in Mount Pleasant about him having this opportunity."
Senate President Jack Kibbie, a Democrat from Emmetsburg, is another Vilsack fan who expects the former governor to be an "excellent" ag secretary. "You betcha, I think it’s a wonderful appointment," Kibbie says, "because of Iowa, him coming from Iowa and all the farm programs that Iowa needs and safety nets and the competition title in the Farm Bill that’s kind of been winked at. Country of origin labeling needs to be cleaned and Packers and Stockyards Act needs to be enforced."
Kibbie raises livestock and argues Vilsack, who is a lawyer, may be more inclined to use the U.S.D.A.’s power to crack down on monopolies.
Kibbie and Vilsack served together in the state senate for a few years, then Kibbie was in the senate while Vilsack served as governor for eight years. During those years, it never occurred to Kibbie that Vilsack would be a future ag secretary. "No, I did not," Kibbie says, with a laugh. "But he’s a quick learner — very quick — and his experience as governor administratively will help him in this office. This is a vast office, the USDA. They’ve probably got 10 times as many employees as the State of Iowa and they’re in every state in the union."
Kibbie had hoped to watch today’s hearing on TV or the Internet, but he’ll be attending to legislative duties this morning — presiding over a joint session of the House and Senate so the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court can deliver her annual address to lawmakers. Vilsack’s appearance before the Senate Ag Committee is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., Iowa time.