Tom Vilsack: Wikis


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Tom Vilsack

Assumed office 
January 21, 2009
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Ed Schafer

In office
January 15, 1999 – January 12, 2007
Preceded by Terry Branstad
Succeeded by Chet Culver

Born December 13, 1950 (1950-12-13) (age 59)
Pittsburgh, United States
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Christie Vilsack
Alma mater Hamilton College
Albany Law School
Profession Attorney
Religion Roman Catholic

Thomas James "Tom" Vilsack (pronounced /ˈvɪlsæk/; born December 13, 1950) is an American politician, a member of the Democratic Party, and presently the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. He served as the 40th Governor of the state of Iowa. He was first elected in 1998 and re-elected to a second four-year term in 2002. On November 30, 2006, he formally launched his candidacy for the Democratic Party's nomination for President of the United States in the 2008 election, but ended his bid on February 23, 2007.[1]

Barack Obama announced Vilsack's selection to be the United States 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.


Secretary of Agriculture

As Secretary of Agriculture, Vilsack is working hard to strengthen the American agricultural economy, to revitalize rural communities, to protect and conserve American natural resources, and to provide a safe, sufficient and nutritious food supply for the American people.

As Agriculture Secretary, Vilsack has worked to implement President Obama's ambitious agenda to turn around the economy and put Americans back to work. In the tough economy of 2009, USDA supported struggling farmers and ranchers, provided food aid to 1 in 5 Americans, and implemented the Recovery Act to create jobs and build a foundation for future economic growth.

At USDA, Secretary Vilsack is working to ensure that America's forests and private working lands are conserved, implementing new strategies to restore American forests and a clean water supply. These efforts are already creating private sector jobs protecting and rehabilitating our forests and wetlands.

Under Vilsack's leadership, USDA is working to improve the health of America's children, targeting child hunger and obesity with efforts to encourage balanced meals, nutritious eating and increased physical activity. He has ordered a top to bottom review of USDA's food safety standards and has begun to implement policy changes to ensure the safety of the American food supply.

Secretary Vilsack shares President Obama's commitment to strengthening rural America, which is why USDA is helping create economic opportunities in America's rural communities by expanding broadband access, promoting renewable energy, increasing agricultural exports, taking advantage of ecosystem markets, capitalizing on outdoor recreation, and linking local farm production to local consumption. And USDA is revitalizing rural America by investing in critical infrastructure such as homes, fire stations, water systems and health clinics that will create jobs and improve the quality of life for rural residents.

Secretary Vilsack's USDA is promoting American agriculture production and biotechnology exports by conducting cutting edge agricultural research and maintaining an appropriate safety net for America's farmers and ranchers. Vilsack is committed to President Obama's National Export Initiative to expand American agricultural exports through travel, negotiations and improved promotion strategies. And he has worked to develop a United States Government-wide strategy to establish food security across the globe.

Secretary Vilsack has worked to make the Department more efficient, transparent and effective. He has instituted reforms at USDA that will save taxpayers more than $50 million. And he has made civil rights a top priority, taking definitive action to improve the Department's record and to move USDA into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider.

Early life and family

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tom Vilsack was abandoned at birth and placed in a Roman Catholic orphanage. He was adopted in 1951 by Bud and Dolly Vilsack, who raised him in the Roman Catholic faith. His adoptive father was a real-estate agent and insurance salesman, and his adoptive mother was a homemaker.

He attended high school at Shady Side Academy, a preparatory school in Pittsburgh. He received a Bachelor's degree in 1972 from Hamilton College in New York. While at Hamilton College he joined the Delta Upsilon Fraternity. He received a Juris Doctor (J.D.) in 1975 from Albany Law School.

Vilsack met his future wife, Ann Christine "Christie" Bell, in a cafeteria while at college in New York in October 1968.[2] Vilsack approached Bell and asked, "Are you a Humphrey or a Nixon supporter?"[2] She replied "Humphrey" and they soon began dating.[2] The couple were married on August 18, 1973, in Bell's hometown of Mount Pleasant, Iowa.[2]

He and his wife, Ann Christine "Christie" Bell moved to rural Mount Pleasant, Iowa, her hometown in 1975,[2] 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 (EESI).

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.[3]

Early political career

Tom Vilsack was elected mayor of Mount Pleasant, Iowa in 1987, following the murder of mayor Ed King by a disgruntled citizen. He was elected to the Iowa State Senate in 1992 by a relatively slim margin. Following 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.

Electoral history

  • 1998 election for Governor of Iowa:
Democratic Primary
  • Tom Vilsack (D), 52%
  • Mark McCormick (D), 48%
1998 General Election:[4]
  • Tom Vilsack (D), 52.3% – 500,231 votes
  • Jim Lightfoot (R), 46.5% – 444,787 votes


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. House Representative. Lightfoot became the odds-on favorite to succeed Branstad. Tom Vilsack defeated former Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark McCormick in the Democratic primary. Vilsack chose as his running mate Sally Pederson. Vilsack narrowly won the general election– making it the first time in 30 years that a Democrat was elected Governor of Iowa.

In 2002 he won his second term in office by defeating Republican challenger attorney Doug Gross by eight points. Also in 2002, Vilsack appointed Dr. Stephen Gleason as his Chief of Staff. Gleason resigned in 2005 to pursue a career in Medical Consulting at Health Policy Strategies in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was replaced by Cynthia Eisenhauer, former director of the Iowa Department of Management and Iowa Workforce Development.

Vilsack speaks at the dedication ceremony of the Iowa Events Center's Wells Fargo Arena, July 12, 2005.

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 Ed Fallon, criticized this program.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

For most of Tom Vilsack's tenure as Governor, Republicans held effective majorities in the Iowa General Assembly. Following the November 2, 2004, elections, the 50-member Senate was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. 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.

Following Kelo v. City of New London, Vilsack vetoed but was overridden on Iowa House file 2351, a bill to restrict Iowa's use of eminent domain.

"I am particularly troubled with the provisions that restrict the use of eminent domain for redevelopment purposes to areas defined as slum or blighted."--Tom Vilsack, veto letter for Iowa House file 2351.

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. Succeeded by Chet Culver, he became the first Democratic governor since Clyde L. Herring seventy years earlier to be succeeded by another Democrat.

2008 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.[8]

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,[9] and a conference call with the podcast site TalkShoe.[10] On January 27, 2007, Vilsack called into the Regular Guys Show hosted by Kurt Hurner to conduct a fifteen minute interview on his running for the Democratic nomination for 2008. Since then, Vilsack appeared again, 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 thirty 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.[11]

Shortly after ending his 2008 bid for the White House, Vilsack endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and was named the national co-chair for Clinton's presidential campaign.[12]

Views on Iraq

Vilsack's stance on the war is 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."[13]

Vilsack announcing his withdrawral from the race

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.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

Secretary of Agriculture selection

Vilsack conducts a press conference shortly after being nominated as Secretary of Agriculture, December 2008.

On December 17, 2008, then-President-elect Barack Obama announced his choice of Vilsack as the nominee to be the 30th Secretary of Agriculture.[17] Vilsack has governed a farm state as did the previous two Secretaries of Agriculture, Mike Johanns (who is currently the junior 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.[18]

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.[19] 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.[20] Among those reasons the report cites: Vilsack has repeatedly demonstrated a preference for large industrial farms and genetically modified crops;[21] 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.[22]


  1. ^ Vilsack Dropping Out Boston Globe, February 23, 2007
  2. ^ a b c d e Okamoto, Lynn (2009-10-15). "Vilsack biography". Des Moines Register. Retrieved 2009-10-14. 
  3. ^ Carnegie Learning, Inc. (May 1, 2006). "Governor Tom Vilsack Joins Board of Carnegie Learning, Inc.". Press release. 
  4. ^ Gubernatorial General Election Results - Iowa USA Election Atlas
  5. ^ Desmoines Register
  6. ^ Desmoines Register
  7. ^ Iowa Joins Ranks of States to Restore Voting Rights to Felons
  8. ^ Thank You Video
  9. ^ Kuhn, Eric. Vilsack Wants To Appeal To ME and YOU. Huffington Post.
  10. ^ TalkShoe RSS feed
  11. ^
  12. ^ - Media Release
  13. ^ New Yorker
  14. ^ Vilsack wants smaller U.S. force in Iraq
  15. ^ Tom Vilsack for President
  16. ^ Emma Marris & Alexandra Witze. Nature, 457:242–243 (2009), doi:10.1038/457242.
  17. ^ Sources: Obama to tap Vilsack as agriculture secretary
  18. ^ Anonymous. Senate confirms 6 Obama Cabinet officials, OMB director, CNN website, January 20, 2009.
  19. ^ Schuff, Sally. Obama picks Vilsack for ad secretary. Feedstuffs, December 22, 2008, p1.
  20. ^ Sources: Six Reasons Why Obama Appointing Monsanto's Buddy, Former Iowa Governor Vilsack, For USDA Head Would Be a Bad Idea
  21. ^ [1]
  22. ^ Sources: Iowa's Vilsack Named BIO Governor of the Year

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Ed Schaefer
United States Secretary of Agriculture
Served under: Barack Obama

2009 – present
Preceded by
Terry Branstad
Governor of Iowa
1999– 2007
Succeeded by
Chet Culver
Party political offices
Preceded by
Evan Bayh
Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council
2005– 2007
Succeeded by
Harold Ford
United States order of precedence
Preceded by
Ken Salazar
Secretary of the Interior
United States order of precedence
Secretary of Agriculture
Succeeded by
Gary Locke
Secretary of Commerce
United States presidential line of succession
Preceded by
Ken Salazar
Secretary of the Interior
9th in line
Secretary of Agriculture
Succeeded by
Gary Locke
Secretary of Commerce

Simple English

Tom Vilsack
File:Tom Vilsack, official USDA photo

Assumed office 
January 21, 2009
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Ed Schafer

40th Governor of Iowa
In office
January 15, 1999 – January 12, 2007
Lieutenant Sally Pederson
Preceded by Terry Branstad
Succeeded by Chet Culver

Born December 13, 1950 (1950-12-13) (age 60)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Political party Democratic
Spouse Christie Vilsack
Alma mater Hamilton College
Albany Law School
Occupation Attorney
Religion Roman Catholic

Thomas James Vilsack (born December 13, 1950) is a former Governor of Iowa and a former Democratic candidate for President of the United States.

Vilsack was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At college, he met and married his wife, Christie. They moved to Iowa after graduation. They have two children.

Vilsack served in the Iowa State Senate before he ran for governor in 1998. He won that election and the next one in 2002. He chose not to run again in 2006.

In December 2006, Vilsack said he would run for president. He dropped out of the race a few months later. He endorsed New York Senator Hillary Clinton. Vilsack is now U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

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