Tom Vilsack

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Tom Vilsack
20210427-OSEC-TEW-001 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (51148817903).jpg
30th and 32nd United States Secretary of Agriculture
Assumed office
February 24, 2021
PresidentJoe Biden
DeputyJewel H. Bronaugh
Preceded bySonny Perdue
In office
January 20, 2009 – January 13, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
DeputyKathleen Merrigan
Krysta Harden
Michael Scuse (acting)
Preceded byEd Schafer
Succeeded bySonny Perdue
40th Governor of Iowa
In office
January 15, 1999 – January 12, 2007
LieutenantSally Pederson
Preceded byTerry Branstad
Succeeded byChet Culver
Member of the Iowa Senate
from the 49th district
In office
January 11, 1993 – January 11, 1999
Preceded byJack W. Hester
Succeeded byMark Shearer
Mayor of Mount Pleasant
In office
1987–1992
Preceded byEdward King
Succeeded byStanley Hill
Personal details
Born
Thomas James Vilsack

(1950-12-13) December 13, 1950 (age 70)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)
(m. 1973)
Children2
ResidenceMount Pleasant, Iowa, U.S.
EducationHamilton College (BA)
Albany Law School (JD)
Occupation
  • Politician
  • lawyer
Signature

Thomas James Vilsack (/ˈvɪlsæk/; born December 13, 1950) is an American lawyer and politician serving as the 32nd United States secretary of agriculture under the Biden administration. A member of the Democratic Party, he previously served as the 30th secretary of agriculture from 2009 to 2017 in the Obama administration and as the 40th governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007.

On November 30, 2006, he formally launched his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2008 election, but ended his bid on February 23, 2007.[1] Then-President-elect Barack Obama announced Vilsack's selection to be Secretary of Agriculture on December 17, 2008. His nomination was confirmed by the United States Senate by unanimous consent on January 20, 2009. Until his January 13, 2017 resignation[2] one week prior to the end of Obama's second term as President, he had been the only member of the U.S. Cabinet who had served since the day Obama originally took office. As of the end of that term he was the fourth-longest-serving holder of the office.[3]

On July 19, 2016, The Washington Post reported that Vilsack was on Hillary Clinton's two-person shortlist to be her running mate for that year's presidential election. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine was ultimately selected.[4] On December 10, 2020, then-President-elect Joe Biden announced his intention to nominate Vilsack to once again serve as the secretary of agriculture in the incoming Biden administration.[5][3] Vilsack was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 23, 2021 by a vote of 92–7.[6]

Early life and education[edit]

Vilsack was born on December 13, 1950 in a Roman Catholic orphanage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his 23-year-old birth mother (a secretary) had lived since September 1950 under the pseudonym of "Gloria"; he was baptized as "Kenneth".[7] He was adopted in 1951 by Bud, a real-estate agent and insurance salesman, and Dolly Vilsack. They named him Thomas James.

Vilsack attended Shady Side Academy, a preparatory high school in Pittsburgh. He received a bachelor's degree in 1972 from Hamilton College. While at Hamilton, he joined the Delta Upsilon fraternity. He received a Juris Doctor from Albany Law School in 1975.

Early political career[edit]

In Mount Pleasant, Vilsack raised funds to rebuild an athletic facility for young people; in a 2016 interview, he describes himself "as the Jerry Lewis of Mount Pleasant for a couple days" when he hosted a pledge drive on the local radio station to raise the funds.[8] This led him to involvement in the local Chamber of Commerce and United Way. He and his wife volunteered in the failed 1988 presidential campaign of then senator(current president) Joe Biden. After the mayor of Mount Pleasant was gunned down in December 1986, Vilsack led a fundraising drive to build a memorial fountain.[9] The deceased mayor's father asked Vilsack to run for mayor of Mount Pleasant; he was elected and began serving in 1987.[10] He was elected to the Iowa Senate in 1992.[10] 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 redesign 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[edit]

In 1998, Terry Branstad chose not to seek re-election after 16 years as governor. The Iowa Republican Party nominated Jim Ross Lightfoot, a 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 polls consistently showed him in the lead.[11] However, Vilsack narrowly won the general election and became the first Democrat to serve as governor of Iowa in thirty years and only the fifth Democrat to hold the office in the 20th century.

During the 2000 contest for the Democratic presidential nomination between Vice President Al Gore and former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, he remained neutral.[12]

In 2002 he won his second term in office by defeating Republican challenger attorney Doug Gross by eight percentage points.[13]

Governor Tom Vilsack in 2008

In first year of his second term, Vilsack used a line-item veto, later ruled unconstitutional by the Iowa Supreme Court, to create 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. He vetoed 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.

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.

In July 2005, Vilsack signed an executive order allowing all felons who had served their sentences to vote.[citation needed] Approximately 115,000 felons regained their voting rights.[14] He said: "When you've paid your debt to society, you need to be reconnected and re-engaged to society." Previously, convicted felons were disenfranchised, but could petition the governor to initiate a process, normally requiring six months, to restore their right to vote.[15]

During the 2005 legislative session, Vilsack signed legislation designed to reduce methamphetamine use. It imposed greater restrictions on products containing the active ingredient pseudoephedrine, requiring them to be sold behind pharmacy counters rather than via open-access. It required purchasers to show identification and sign a log book. It took effect on May 21, 2005.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London in June 2005, Vilsack vetoed a bill to restrict Iowa's use of eminent domain, citing its potential for negative impact on job creation. He said: "You have an interesting balance between job growth, which everybody supports, and restricting the power of government, which a lot of people support."[16] His veto was overridden by the legislature.

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.[17]

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[edit]

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.[18]

Vilsack's campaign logo

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,[19] and a conference call with the podcast site TalkShoe.[20] 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.[21]

Shortly after ending his 2008 bid for the White House, Vilsack endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton and was named the national co-chair for Clinton's presidential campaign.[22]

Views on Iraq[edit]

Vilsack's was critical of President Bush's execution of the war in Iraq, but he hesitated to call for an immediate and complete pullout of U.S. forces: "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."[23]

Vilsack announces his withdrawal from the race.

On December 5, Vilsack announced that he favored withdrawing most U.S. forces from Iraq and leaving a small force in the northern region for a limited period. He said U.S. forces provided the Iraqi government with "both a crutch and an excuse" for inaction. He said U.S. withdrawal "may very well require them to go through some chaotic and very difficult times", but that he believed it the only way to force the Iraqi government to take control of the country.[24]

Views on energy security[edit]

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.[25]

In a 2007 lecture to the Commonwealth Club of California, Vilsack stated:[26]

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 (2009–2017)[edit]

Appointment[edit]

Vilsack's 2009 official portrait during his first tenure as Agriculture secretary
Vilsack introduces President Barack Obama at the Northeast Iowa Community College, for a White House Rural Economic Forum on August 16, 2011.

On December 17, 2008, then-President-elect Barack Obama announced his choice of Vilsack as the nominee to be the 30th Secretary of Agriculture.[27] 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.[28]

Jeanne Shaheen with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Lorraine Merrill announcing a grant that helps local farms turn commodities into value-added products
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (left), Tom Vilsack and New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner Lorraine Merrill in August 2014, announce a grant that helps local farms turn commodities into value-added products.

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.[29] 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.[30]

Actions[edit]

Vilsack appointed Shirley Sherrod as the Georgia Director of Rural Development, saying she would be an "important advocate on behalf of rural communities".[31] 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.[32] Subsequent reports claim that Vilsack overreacted to a selectively edited tape of a speech which Sherrod had given to the NAACP and had been posted online by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.[33] Vilsack expressed his "deep regret" to Sherrod in acting hastily.[34]

On January 24, 2012, Obama appointed Vilsack the designated survivor during the President's State of the Union address.[35]

Beef advocacy[edit]

In March 2012, Vilsack joined three midwest governors in a campaign to defend the use of a processed beef product made from trimmings left after beef carcasses are butchered, dubbed "pink slime" by its critics. He said "it's safe, it contains less fat and historically it's been less expensive" and that it should be available to consumers and school districts that want to buy it.[36]

Global warming[edit]

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."[37]

Considered resignation[edit]

In 2015, Vilsack told President Obama he was considering resigning from his position. The Washington Post reported that he said, "There are days when I have literally nothing to do" as he weighed his decision to quit.[38] Obama asked Vilsack to remain in his position and asked him to look into the problem of opioid addiction.[38]

Between cabinet tenures[edit]

Shortly after his tenure ended, Vilsack released a statement in support of his succession by Sonny Perdue as the Secretary of Agriculture, making Perdue the only cabinet member nominee to receive a public statement of support from an Obama cabinet member.[39] He was mentioned as a possible candidate for the United States Senate in 2020, for the seat currently held by Republican incumbent Joni Ernst,[40] but subsequently declined to run.[41]

Since February 2017, Vilsack has been President and CEO of the US Dairy Export Council.[42]

Vilsack endorsed Joe Biden in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries.[43]

Secretary of Agriculture (2021–present)[edit]

Vilsack is sworn in for the second time as agriculture secretary by Vice President Kamala Harris, February 24, 2021.

Nomination and confirmation hearings[edit]

In December 2020, Biden announced he would nominate Vilsack to again serve as the Secretary of Agriculture.[44] The move was met by some with criticism from black farmers and progressives, because of Vilsack's perceived relationship with status quo and corporate agriculture.[45][46][47] He appeared before the Senate Agriculture Committee on February 2, 2021, and was unanimously approved.[48] His nomination was confirmed by the Senate on February 23, 2021, by a 92–7 vote.[49] He was sworn into office by Vice President Kamala Harris on February 24, 2021.[50]

Personal life[edit]

Vilsack met his wife, Ann Christine "Christie" Bell, in a cafeteria while at Hamilton College in New York in October 1968. Vilsack approached her 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 Christie Vilsack's hometown of Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Vilsack and his wife moved to Mount Pleasant in 1975, where he joined his father-in-law's law practice.[10]

Tom and Christie Vilsack have two sons, Jess and Doug.[51]

In May 2017, Vilsack's six-year-old granddaughter, Ella, died of complications from influenza.[52]

Vilsack won $150,000 in the Powerball in 2020.[53]

Electoral history[edit]

  • 1992 election for Iowa State Senate, 49th District:
Democratic Primary[54]
  • Tom Vilsack (D), 100.0%
1992 General Election:[55]
  • Tom Vilsack (D), 50.1% – 12,544 votes
  • Dave Heaton (R), 42.1% – 10,551 votes
  • Dan Reed (I), 7.8% – 1,945 votes
  • 1994 election for Iowa State Senate, 49th District:
Democratic Primary[56]
  • Tom Vilsack (D), 99.9% – 1,201 votes
  • scattering, 0.1% – 1 vote
1994 General Election:[57]
  • Tom Vilsack (D), 98.8% – 12,288 votes
  • scattering, 1.2% – 145 votes
Democratic primary results[58]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Vilsack 59,130 51.20
Democratic Mark McCormick 55,950 48.45
Democratic Write-ins 410 0.36
Total votes 115,490 100.00
Iowa gubernatorial election, 1998[59]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Tom Vilsack 500,231 52.30% +10.74%
Republican Jim Ross Lightfoot 444,787 46.51% -10.29%
Reform Jim Hennager 5,606 0.59%
Natural Law Jim Schaefer 3,144 0.33% -0.05%
Independent Mark Kennis 2,006 0.21%
Write-ins 641 0.07%
Majority 55,444 5.80% -9.44%
Turnout 956,415
Democratic gain from Republican Swing
Democratic primary results[60]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tom Vilsack (incumbent) 79,277 98.55
Democratic Write-ins 1,166 1.45
Total votes 80,443 100
Iowa gubernatorial election, 2002[61]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Tom Vilsack (incumbent) 540,449 52.69% +0.39%
Republican Doug Gross 456,612 44.51% -2.00%
Green Jay Robinson 14,628 1.43%
Libertarian Clyde Cleveland 13,098 1.28%
Write-ins 1,025 0.10%
Majority 83,837 8.17% +2.37%
Turnout 1,025,802
Democratic hold Swing

References[edit]

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  2. ^ "Radio Iowa, January 13, 2017". Archived from the original on January 6, 2018. Retrieved January 14, 2017.
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  4. ^ "Two names emerge from Clinton's VP deliberations: Kaine and Vilsack". The Washington Post. July 19, 2016. Archived from the original on January 2, 2019. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  5. ^ @Transition46 (December 10, 2020). "Working families, veterans, farmers and producers, and those fighting for their place in the middle class will have partners in government once again. This experienced group will help us make it through this pandemic and thrive once the crisis is over" (Tweet). Retrieved December 10, 2020 – via Twitter.
  6. ^ "On the Nomination (Confirmation: Thomas J. Vilsack, of Iowa, to be Secretary of Agriculture)". U.S. Senate. February 23, 2021. Retrieved March 4, 2021.
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  9. ^ Meyer, Elizabeth (July 12, 2016). "30 years after mayor's death, Edd King Fountain to be rededicated Saturday". The Hawk Eye. Retrieved May 21, 2017.
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  26. ^ Marris, Emma; Witze, Alexandra (January 14, 2009). "On the Record". Nature. 457 (7227): 242–243. doi:10.1038/457242a. PMID 19148063. Archived from the original on October 31, 2015. Retrieved July 20, 2016.
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  28. ^ "Senate confirms 6 Obama Cabinet officials, OMB director". CNN. January 20, 2009. Archived from the original on January 22, 2009.
  29. ^ Schuff, Sally (December 22, 2008). "Obama picks Vilsack for ad secretary". Feedstuffs. p. 1.
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  32. ^ Stolberg, Sheryl Gay; Dewan, Shaila; Stelter, Brian (July 21, 2010). "With Apology, Fired Official Is Offered a New Job". The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 18, 2013. Retrieved February 18, 2013.
  33. ^ Oliphant, James (February 14, 2011). "Shirley Sherrod sues Andrew Breitbart over video he posted that led USDA to fire her". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
  34. ^ Montopoli, Brian (July 21, 2010). "Vilsack: I Will Have to Live With Shirley Sherrod Mistake". CBS News. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved July 21, 2010.
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  41. ^ Pfannenstiel, Brianne; Cannon, Austin (February 22, 2019). "Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack will not run for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Joni Ernst in 2020". Des Moines Register. Archived from the original on December 9, 2020. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  42. ^ "Tom Vilsack to Take Helm of U.S. Dairy Export Council". U.S. Dairy Export Council. Archived from the original on September 20, 2019. Retrieved September 12, 2019.
  43. ^ Gruber-Miller, Stephen (November 23, 2019). "Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and wife Christie Vilsack endorse Joe Biden for president". The Des Moines Register. Archived from the original on December 9, 2020. Retrieved December 9, 2020.
  44. ^ Charles, Dan (December 9, 2020). "Biden plans to bring Vilsack back to USDA despite criticism". NPR. Retrieved December 10, 2020.
  45. ^ "Tom Vilsack Is the Wrong Person To Lead the Department of Agriculture". Reason.com. December 19, 2020. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  46. ^ Editorial, Staff. "Vilsack, a status quo pick, must lead change". The Gazette. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  47. ^ "Black farmers, civil rights advocates seething over Vilsack pick". POLITICO. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  48. ^ "Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack's USDA secretary nomination gets committee nod, goes to full Senate". Des Moines Register. February 2, 2021. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  49. ^ Verma, Pranshu; Gladstone, Rick (February 23, 2021). "Senate confirms Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be U.N. ambassador and Tom Vilsack to be agriculture secretary". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 23, 2021.
  50. ^ "Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack sworn in as US Agriculture Secretary". KCCI. February 25, 2021. Retrieved February 25, 2021.
  51. ^ "Jess and Doug Vilsack". justfacts.vote smart.org (Press release). Washington D.C.: Project Vote Smart. December 1, 2008. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
  52. ^ "UPDATE: Vilsack's granddaughter dies following flu complications". KCRG.com. May 20, 2017. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
  53. ^ "Vilsack wins Powerball". Omaha.com. Archived from the original on February 12, 2020. Retrieved February 10, 2020.
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  57. ^ "Iowa Secretary of State Official Canvass Summary, 1994 General Election" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on December 20, 2016. Retrieved November 7, 2016.
  58. ^ http://publications.iowa.gov/135/1/elections/10-7.pdf
  59. ^ http://sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/10-8.pdf
  60. ^ http://sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/2002/results/PRI_Governor.pdf
  61. ^ http://sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/2002/results/GovernorCanvass.pdf

External links[edit]