Daily Archives: December 17, 2008

Mr. Secretary

Last Summer, at the Democratic National Convention, former Gov. Tom Vilsack told a small group of journos that he was still seeking a calling 18 months after leaving office.

Sure, he had about a half-dozen jobs. He lectured at Harvard this fall and is still practicing law while advising Iowa State and others on biofuels. He’s been writing on the merits of biotech crops. He co-chaired a state health coverage task force, where he pushed an effort to cover to expand state coverage to the children of illegal immigrants. Busy.

He had just returned from a trip to Africa with Bill Clinton, and envied the former president’s foundation work.

“I need to figure out how to do that (focus his talents). I haven’t figured that out,”Vilsack said  at the time. “Obviously, I’m going through that wayward time that I never did as a teenager. I was always kind of focused in.”

But Vilsack is wayward no more, after Barack Obama reportedly picked him to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The initial reviews have been mixed, leaning positive. Most Iowa leaders, of course, have praised it. On the other hand, some folks on the left who were hoping for someone more certified organic, less corny and soy beany,  are displeased.

But I think Visack is the right choice. For one thing, he’s a very smart, thoughtful and driven guy. It doesn’t surprise me that Obama and Visack hit it off. I understood the practical politics of why Vilsack endorsed Hillary in 2007, but I always though Obama was a better match for Vilsack’s approach to policy and politics.

Vilsackwas a competent governor and a quick study who mastered issues that he cared about. I don’t expect him to turn the USDA inside-out, but neither do I expect him to sit back and put the place on autopilot.

One of the things that was admirable/maddening about covering Vilsack was that he had 20 big ideas before breakfast. Sometimes that resulted in a lack of focus.

Regardless of what you think of Vilsack, the pick is good for Iowa. The department has a big impact on our economy and it’s been decades since an Iowans was at the helm. Vilsack has always been a zealoussalesman for his adopted home state.

Here’s a link to the column I wrote about Vilsack in August.

But I haven’t always been kind to the former gov. After the jump is the farewell column I wrote at my last job as he departed Terrace Hill in January 2007:

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