|30th United States Secretary of Agriculture|
January 21, 2009
|Preceded by||Ed Schafer|
|40th Governor of Iowa|
January 15, 1999 – January 12, 2007
|Preceded by||Terry Branstad|
|Succeeded by||Chet Culver|
December 13, 1950 |
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Christie Bell (1973–present)|
|Alma mater||Hamilton College, New York
Albany Law School
Thomas James "Tom" Vilsack (//; born December 13, 1950) is an American politician who has served as the United States Secretary of Agriculture since 2009. A member of the Democratic Party, Vilsack served as the 40th Governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007.
Barack Obama announced Vilsack's selection to be Secretary of Agriculture under his administration on December 17, 2008. Vilsack's nomination was confirmed by the United States Senate by unanimous consent on January 20, 2009.
Early life, education and career
Born on December 13, 1950 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tom Vilsack was placed in a Roman Catholic orphanage. He was adopted in 1951 by Bud and Dolly Vilsack. Bud Vilsack was a real-estate agent and insurance salesman.
Vilsack attended Shady Side Academy, a preparatory high school in Pittsburgh. He received a bachelor's degree in 1972 from Hamilton College in New York. While at Hamilton he joined the Delta Upsilon Fraternity. He received a Juris Doctor (J.D.) in 1975 from Albany Law School. He and his wife settled in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1975.
Early political career
Vilsack was elected mayor of Mount Pleasant in 1987. He was elected to the Iowa Senate in 1992. Following his election, he worked on legislation requiring companies who received state tax incentives to provide better pay and benefits. He helped pass a law for workers to receive health coverage when changing jobs, and helped re-design Iowa's Workforce Development Department. He also wrote a bill to have the State of Iowa assume a 50% share of local county mental health costs.
Governor of Iowa
In 1998, Terry Branstad chose not to seek re-election following sixteen consecutive years as governor. The Iowa Republican Party nominated Jim Ross Lightfoot, a recent former U.S. Representative. Vilsack defeated former Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark McCormick in the Democratic primary and chose Sally Pederson as his running mate. Lightfoot was the odds-on favorite to succeed Branstad and polling consistently showed him in the lead. However, Vilsack narrowly won the general election and became the first Democrat to serve as governor of Iowa in 30 years and only the fifth Democrat to hold the office in the 20th century.
In 2002 he won his second term in office by defeating Republican challenger attorney Doug Gross by eight points.
The first year of his second term saw creation of the Grow Iowa Values Fund, a $503 million appropriation designed to boost the Iowa economy by offering grants to corporations and initiatives pledged to create higher-income jobs. Vilsack used a line-item veto, later ruled unconstitutional by the Iowa Supreme Court, to pass the fund, vetoing portions of the bill that would have cut income taxes and eased business regulations. After a special session of the Iowa General Assembly on September 7, 2004, $100 million in state money was set aside to honor previously made commitments. The Grow Iowa Values Fund was reinstated at the end of the 2005 session: under the current law, $50 million per year will be set aside over the next ten years.
Candidates seeking to replace Vilsack, most notably Des Moines politician Ed Fallon, criticized this program. Their complaints include the fact that companies lured into Iowa by the fund, unlike Iowa-based corporations, can be lured away by greater cash incentives elsewhere. Another criticism is that it does nothing to promote new business.
In July 2005, Vilsack signed an executive order allowing all felons who had served their sentences to vote again. Iowa law previously held that convicted felons are permanently disenfranchized unless voting rights were restored personally by the governor; Vilsack did away with this process. For most of Vilsack's tenure as Governor, Republicans held effective majorities in the Iowa General Assembly. Following the November 2, 2004, elections, the fifty-member Senate was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans and Republicans held a 51–49 majority in the House of Representatives.
During the 2005 legislative session, Vilsack signed into law greater restrictions that require products containing the active ingredient pseudoephedrine to be sold behind pharmacy counters, as opposed to open-access at open-shelf level. Those wishing to buy such products must show identification and sign a log book. The new law, designed to reduce methamphetamine use in Iowa, took effect on May 21, 2005.
Vilsack is a former member of the National Governors Association Executive Committee. He was chair of the Democratic Governors Association in 2004. He was also chair of the Governors Biotechnology Partnership, the Governors Ethanol Coalition, and the Midwest Governors Conference, and has also been chair and vice chair of the National Governors Association's committee on Natural Resources, where he worked to develop the NGA's farm and energy policies.
Prior to Democratic Presidential candidate Senator John Kerry's selection of Senator John Edwards, Vilsack was thought to be high on the list of potential running mates for Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. In 2005, Vilsack established Heartland PAC, a political action committee aimed at electing Democratic Governors. In the first report, he raised over half a million dollars. Vilsack left office in 2007; he did not seek a third term and was succeeded by Chet Culver.
2008 U.S. presidential campaign
On November 30, 2006, Tom Vilsack became the second Democrat (after Mike Gravel) to officially announce intentions to run for the presidency in the 2008 election. In his announcement speech, he said "America's a great country, and now I have the opportunity to begin the process, the legal process of filing papers to run for President of the United States." Vilsack dropped out of the race on February 23, 2007 citing monetary constraints.
Vilsack's campaign made significant use of social media by maintaining an active MySpace profile, a collection of viral video clips on YouTube, a Facebook profile, videoblog on blip.tv, and a conference call with the podcast site TalkShoe. On January 27, 2007, Vilsack called into the Regular Guys Show hosted by Kurt Hurner to conduct a 15‑minute interview on his running for the Democratic nomination for 2008. Since then, Vilsack appeared again on the show, now The Kurt Hurner Show at Talk Shoe on August 12, 2008, this time as a supporter of Barack Obama for president taking questions from callers to the program for 30 minutes.
During the campaign, Vilsack joined fellow candidates Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in supporting the establishment of a U.S. Public Service Academy as a civilian counterpart to the military academies.
Views on Iraq
Vilsack's stance on the war was critical of President Bush but hesitant to call for an immediate and complete pullout from Iraq: "I don't think we're losing in Iraq, It appears to be a draw. People are upset by the fact that their kids are over there and there doesn’t seem to be any end to this whole process. It’s not pacifism that makes people think this way. They’re questioning the credibility and competence of the Commander-in-Chief."
On December 5, Vilsack announced that he favored withdrawing most of the U.S. forces from Iraq and leaving a small force in the northern region for a limited period. While acknowledging that a withdrawal would lead to more violence, he felt that it would be the only way for the Iraqi government to take control of their country.
Views on energy security
The Vilsack Energy Security Agenda set out a strategy to dramatically reduce U.S. reliance on foreign energy and to cut the United States' carbon emissions. It also called for replacing the Department of Energy with a new Department of Energy Security, to oversee and redefine the federal government’s role in energy policy. The reorganized department would have acted as an institutional advocate for innovation in energy policy, and was intended to ensure accountability as the nation works towards achieving its energy security goals. Through this new department, America’s overriding objective in energy policy would have been to make America the unquestioned leader in clean energy, enhancing national security and economic strength.
In a 2007 lecture to the Commonwealth Club of California, Vilsack stated,
|“||Iowa is one of the nation's leading producers of corn-based ethanol, and many people in my state have an economic stake in the expanded use of corn-based ethanol. But the reality is that corn-based ethanol will never be enough to reach our goals. Some have suggested that we import more sugar-based ethanol from Brazil and we should indeed consider all sources of available ethanol...but if we are going to create energy security we can't simply replace one imported source of energy with another. That alone is not security...the only way we can produce enough domestically is if we greatly improve the technology used to produce cellulosic ethanol.||”|
Secretary of Agriculture
On December 17, 2008, then-President-elect Barack Obama announced his choice of Vilsack as the nominee to be the 30th Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack has governed a largely agricultural state as did the previous two Secretaries of Agriculture, Mike Johanns (who was later a United States Senator from Nebraska) (2005–2007) and Ed Schafer (2007–2009).
The Senate confirmed Vilsack's nomination for the position by unanimous consent on January 20, 2009.
Reaction to Vilsack's nomination from agricultural groups was largely positive and included endorsements from the Corn Refiners Association, the National Grain and Feed Association, the National Farmers Union, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and the Environmental Defense Fund. Opposition to the nomination came from the Organic Consumers Association, which outlined in a November 2008 report several reasons why it believed Vilsack would be a poor choice for the position, particularly as energy and environmental reforms were a key point of the Obama campaign. Among those reasons the report cites: Vilsack has repeatedly demonstrated a preference for large industrial farms and genetically modified crops; as Iowa state governor, he originated the seed pre-emption bill in 2005, effectively blocking local communities from regulating where genetically engineered crops would be grown; additionally, Vilsack was the founder and former chair of the Governor's Biotechnology Partnership, and was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, an industry lobbying group.
Vilsack appointed Shirley Sherrod as the Georgia Director of Rural Development, saying that she would be an "important advocate on behalf of rural communities." Months after the appointment, Vilsack forced her to resign based on accusations of considering race in the handling of her job responsibilities at a private advocacy firm in 1986. Subsequent reports claim that he overreacted to a video segment taken out of context, and the secretary expressed his "deep regret" to Sherrod in acting hastily. Vilsack was also a prime mover in enabling the "Pigford" scandal, a massive fraud involving billions in payouts to minority supplicants who falsely claimed Agriculture department bias in the awarding of farm loans.
Vilsack approved a 15-cent per tree tax on Christmas tree sellers, as a result of over 3-years of lobbying from the Christmas tree industry. The Christmas tree tax is expected to raise approximately $4 million from holiday revelers. The purpose of the tax is to fund an advertising program by the U.S. Department of Agriculture promoting the sale of real Christmas trees.
At a Drake University forum on climate change April 22, 2014 Vilsack stated "agriculture tends to take the brunt of criticism about climate change, but the industry contributes only 9 percent of the greenhouse gases blamed for a warming planet" and that while there were "challenges globally in terms of agriculture and its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions that's not necessarily the case in the United States."
- 1998 election for Governor of Iowa:
- Democratic Primary
- Tom Vilsack (D), 51.2%
- Mark McCormick (D), 48.5%
- 1998 General Election:
- Tom Vilsack (D), 52.3% – 500,231 votes
- Jim Lightfoot (R), 46.5% – 444,787 votes
Vilsack met his wife, Ann Christine "Christie" Bell, in a cafeteria while at college in New York in October 1968. Vilsack approached Bell and asked, "Are you a Humphrey or a Nixon supporter?" She replied "Humphrey" and they soon began dating. The couple was married on August 18, 1973, in Bell's hometown of Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Vilsack and his wife moved to Mount Pleasant in 1975, where he joined his father-in-law in law practice.
Tom and Christie Vilsack have two sons, Jess and Doug. Jess graduated from Hamilton College in 2000 where he, like his father, was a member of the Delta Upsilon Fraternity. Jess received a J.D. from the University of Iowa in May 2003. Doug later graduated from Colorado College and is currently attending the University of Colorado School of Law. He is also a research associate at the School of Law's Energy and Environmental Security Initiative (E.E.S.I.).
On May 1, 2006, it was announced that Vilsack joined the Board of Directors of Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Learning, a leading publisher of research-based math curricula for middle school, high school, and postsecondary students.
- Vilsack Dropping Out Boston Globe, February 23, 2007
- Okamoto, Lynn (2009-10-15). "Vilsack biography". Des Moines Register. Retrieved 2009-10-14.
- [dead link]
- [dead link]
- "Iowa Joins Ranks of States to Restore Voting Rights to Felons". Aspanet.org. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
- Longley, Robert. "Tom Vilsack: Secretary of Agriculture". About.com. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
- "Thank You Video". Tomvilsack08.com. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
- Kuhn, Eric. Vilsack Wants To Appeal To ME and YOU. Huffington Post.
- "EPISODE69 - The Kurt Hurner Show". TalkShoe. August 12, 2008. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
- "Endorsements". Uspublicserviceacademy.org. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
- HillaryClinton.com - Media Release[dead link]
- Goldberg, Jeffrey (2006-05-29). "New Yorker". New Yorker. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
- Vilsack wants smaller U.S. force in Iraq[dead link]
- "Tom Vilsack for President". Tomvilsack08.com. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
- Emma Marris & Alexandra Witze. Nature, 457:242–243 (2009), doi:10.1038/457242.
- "Sources: Obama to tap Vilsack as agriculture secretary". Cnn.com. December 16, 2008. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
- Senate confirms 6 Obama Cabinet officials, OMB director, CNN website, January 20, 2009.
- Schuff, Sally. Obama picks Vilsack for ad secretary. Feedstuffs, December 22, 2008, p1.
- "Sources: Six Reasons Why Obama Appointing Monsanto's Buddy, Former Iowa Governor Vilsack, For USDA Head Would Be a Bad Idea". Organic Consumers Association. November 12, 2008. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
- "2-Plants: US politicians attack BIO's GMO moratorium". Gene.ch. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
- Sources: Iowa's Vilsack Named BIO Governor of the Year
- "Shirley Sherrod named Georgia Director of Rural Development". Ruraldevelopment.org. Retrieved 2012-09-05.
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Shaila Dewan, Brian Stelter (July 21, 2010). "With Apology, Fired Official Is Offered a New Job". nytimes.com. Retrieved February 18, 2013.
- Montopoli, Brian (July 21, 2010). "Vilsack: I Will Have to Live With Shirley Sherrod Mistake". CBS News.
- SHARON LaFRANIERE (April 25, 2013). "U.S. Opens Spigot After Farmers Claim Discrimination". nytimes.com. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
- "State of the Union: Tom Vilsack to serve as Cabinet's ‘designated survivor". Washington Post. Associated Press. 24 January 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
- Jordon, Steve (June 1, 2012). "Vilsack says lesson learned over ‘pink slime'". Omaha World-Herald.
- Donnelle Eller (22 April 2014). "Vilsack: Agriculture unfairly blamed for climate change". Des Moines Register. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- "1998 Gubernatorial Democratic Primary Election Results - Iowa". uselectionatlas.org. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
- Gubernatorial General Election Results - Iowa USA Election Atlas
- "Governor Tom Vilsack Joins Board of Carnegie Learning, Inc." (Press release). Carnegie Learning, Inc. May 1, 2006.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tom Vilsack.|
- Biography at the United States Department of Agriculture
- Appearances on Charlie Rose
- Works by or about Tom Vilsack in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Interview The Mac Weekly, November 7, 2008[dead link]
- Harkin: Vilsack tapped for agriculture secretary The Des Moines Register, December 16, 2008
|Party political offices|
|Democratic nominee for Governor of Iowa
|Chairperson of the Democratic Leadership Council
|Governor of Iowa
|United States Secretary of Agriculture
|United States order of precedence (ceremonial)|
as Secretary of the Interior
|Order of Precedence of the United States
Secretary of Agriculture
as Secretary of Commerce
|United States presidential line of succession|
as Attorney General
|8th in line
Secretary of Agriculture
as Secretary of Commerce