Tom Vilsack, former Iowa governor and likely Ag Secretary in the Obama Administration
Photo: Vilsack Campaign

Most years — even an election year — nothing much that’s newsworthy ever happens around Langdon. Most of the presidential candidates (actually all the presidential candidates) did a pretty good job of ignoring Langdon throughout the primaries into the general election.

But we did have some opportunities if we were willing to drive an hour or so.

For instance, about a month before the election, we were told over the phone that a highly placed member of the Obama campaign was coming to St Joseph. The caller said that if the turnout was good, an even more important member of the campaign would make a follow-up visit within a few days.

When we got to Democratic Headquarters located in St Joe, home of the Pony Express , the highly placed member of the Obama campaign turned out to be former two-term Iowa governor Tom Vilsack. Linda and I had a chance to talk to him, and later on the drive home I told her we had probably just met the new Secretary of Agriculture.

He seems like the natural first choice.

Some names mentioned for Ag Secretary other than Vilsack have been House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota or National Farmers Union President Tom Buis of Indiana. Buis is also a former aide to Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, an early Obama supporter.

While both Peterson and Buis would be excellent choices in their own right, a recent article in the Washington Post says that Tom Vilsack has the inside track. And they aren’t the only ones. More stories on Vilsack’s likely appointment can be found here and here.

I guess they read my thoughts.

In order to benefit the environment, and to create jobs, Barack Obama has embraced renewable energy as a replacement for foreign oil. That’s right up Tom Vilsack’s alley. During his tenure as governor, several types of renewable energy found a home in Iowa. At the meeting in St Joseph, he said as much, when he talked about the 20,000 Iowa jobs that had been created from things like wind-generated electricity and biofuels.

A lawyer by trade, Vilsack has never been a farmer, but being governor of one of the country’s most productive agricultural states is almost qualification enough. Orphaned at birth, Vilsack grew up in Pennsylvania with his adoptive parents. Later he married an Iowa girl and moved home with her to Mount Pleasant, where they raised two sons. His first elected office was as mayor of Mount Pleasant. Later he was elected to the Iowa state senate. In 1998 he was elected as the first Democratic governor of Iowa in 30 years, and was re-elected for a second term in 2002.

Tom Vilsack and me in St. Joe.

Vilsack announced early that he was a candidate for the presidency. His strategy was to win the Iowa caucuses, using that win to gain national exposure. But the fundraising power of Senators Clinton and Obama soon eclipsed any chance he had of winning.

When Vilsack withdrew from the race he endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton, which led to speculation that he would have a place in a Clinton cabinet. But once Clinton was out of the race, Vilsack worked enthusiastically for Senator Obama, doing town hall meetings like the one Linda and I attended in St Joseph.

(Oh, there was such a strong turnout to see Vilsack that vice presidential candidate Joe Biden appeared at the Missouri Western State College campus in St Joseph a few days later.)

Vilsack’s credentials mix well with Obama’s. He campaigned to bring the troops home from Iraq. He supports renewable fuels like corn-based ethanol, but favors adopting newer technologies as they are developed, and he is concerned about climate change. He even passes muster with the Farm Bureau. But his position that corn ethanol must give up its place (and its subsidies) to non-food sources like cellulose won’t sit well with corn growers even as it pleases the livestock industry.

In several interviews over the last few weeks, Vilsack shows that not only has he thought about the duties of USDA’s top dog, he has seriously considered the policies the department implements on issues like food security, nutrition , trade , and economic development. As a state senator and as Governor of Iowa, he is on record as having deregulated dairy pricing and supported interstate shipment of state-inspected meat.

In one discussion he mentioned the National Forest Service and the effect removing part of its budget would have on USDA. He also mentioned the split roles of oversight shared between the Food and Drug Administration and USDA regarding food safety. The interview gave no clues as to whether Vilsack would seek to restore full oversight to USDA or advocate downsizing the agency.

In Washington, less money in the budget means less influence”¦and less importance to Washington.

Most farms and rural communities should be concerned about the effect of a reduced role for USDA, since USDA has a large presence in the American countryside.

Now all that remains is for President-elect Obama to confirm what we already suspect, that Tom Vilsack is likely the next Secretary of Agriculture.

He also needs to send him to Langdon for full tour.

It would be a first.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.