Welcome Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

On Jan. 20, President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn into office along with the new cabinet Obama has chosen. Among the new cabinet members is Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

He will have the responsibility of developing federal policy on farming, agriculture, food and food safety. It will also be his duty to re-examine the nation’s biofuel policy.

Vilsack’s political career started in 1987 when he ran for mayor in Mount Pleasant, Iowa and served three terms. Vilsack was elected to the state Senate in 1992 and re-elected in 1994. He made his mark shaping tax-cut and economic-development legislation for the Democratic majority.

In 1998, Vilsack was elected Iowa’s governor, the first Democrat to win in 32 years. He won the election with strong support from organized labor and called his win a "victory for Iowa’s working- and middle-class families." He promised to focus on education, health care, the environment, a fair tax system, property-tax relief and keeping young people in Iowa. In 2008, he briefly ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, but ended his bid and endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Vilsack was orphaned at birth and raised by a Pittsburgh family. He received a Bachelor's degree from Hamilton College in New York and received a J.D. from Albany Law School.

Numerous farm groups and lawyers approve of Obama’s decision to appoint Vilsack. Democrats and Republicans alike believe his experience as Iowa governor will be to the nation’s advantage.

“His nomination is a positive thing for the state of Iowa and agriculture in general,” said Iowa state Rep. David Tjepkes, R-Gowie. “He has valuable experience with renewable energy, conservation and rural development programs.”

“He has a good basic foundation in farm issues,” said Iowa state Rep. Dolores Mertz, D-Ottosen. “He’ll have a solid working relationship with U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.”

Environmentalists also support Obama’s choice.

“We’re encouraged by it,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. “He thinks we need to reform the subsidy system, recognizes the importance of the food programs and he’s very good on conservation.”

Commodity and agriculture analysts believe that Vilsack will have to act fast on unimplemented farm subsidies and lower crop prices, as well as manage controversies over trade, food safety and animal welfare. Vilsack has talked about reducing subsidies to some megafarms, supports better treatment of farm animals and wants healthier food in schools.

However, Obama’s choice is not appealing to all. He received some criticism because Vilsack supports alternative fuels like corn-based ethanol and biotechnology, which are disliked by people who want to shift government support from large-scale agricultural interests to smaller farms.

Obama says that Vilsack’s experience as governor of a rural state makes him well qualified.

“As fiercely protective of family farmers and the farm economy as he has been, he’s also been forward looking on rural development and renewable energy,” said Obama.

What do you think of Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture choice? Please comment below.

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