Vilsack uses last speech as governor to campaign for president

Governor Tom Vilsack delivered his last "Condition of the State" message this morning at 10 o’clock at the Iowa Statehouse.  It was 40 minutes long, but the handfull of minutes he spent talking about Iraq were the center of the speech as Vilsack used the event to talk presdiential politics.  (Vilsack, you may recall, officially told us November 30th that he’s running fro president.)

At about 9:10 this morning, Vilsack strolled into the Kennedy Conference Room.  That’s the room in the governor’s working statehouse office where news conferences are held.  There’s a blue pleated curtain for a backdrop and a long conference talbe in the room — a gift to the state during former Governor Terry Branstad’s era from the woodworkers at the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs. 

Vilsack, styrofoam coffee cup in hand, sat down on the edge of that table and began to review the speech he’d be delvering just minutes later upstairs in the House of Representatives. 

"For the first time in eight years I did what I wanted to do and that was to do it myself," Vilsack began, referring to the speech.  "This is a difficult speech because I’m not the one that’s putting the budget together…so there are not going to be any specific numbers in this speech….I will tell you, however, that based on the current projections the state will have a fully-funded reserve acount.  We expect roughly $270 million available as well which means that the Senior Living Trust…would be fully paid so we would once again be in position of having over $800 million in cash available at some point in time at the end of this fiscal year so we leave this state in sort of the same circumstance that it was in when we came eight years ago, not withstanding war, an attack on our country and a difficult fiscal challenge.

"I think this is the time and the place for Iowa to take several significant leaps forward…(Governor-elect Culver & Democratic legislators) have the opportunity and the responsibility and the challenge to embrace change. 

"As you can expect, the speech has to focus on thanking a number of people and I do apologize for the length of that at the beginning….I will talk about education….I believe it is time for the state to embrace the notion that every child in the state should have access to universal preschool.  We can afford it and we can do it.  This General Assembly and this govenror will have the capacity to do that and it will be probably the best money the we can invest.

"We will talk a little about teacher compensation and while I applaud the governor-elect and the legislative leaders for their intent to raise teaching salaires and continue the work that we have started, I think that there is more work that needs to be done and I will encourage them to enact and adopt a new compensation system that rewards stellar performance.  Iowa’s always been a leader in this regard and the current compensation system is 90 years old and it’s not been changed for all intents and purposes during that 90 year period and I’m going to ask them to lead this effort nationally.

"We’re also going to talk briefly about not just the high cost of college education but as importantly in my view the fact that too many youngsters in this state still drop out of high school….On health care again the state is poised do something that no state has actually done.  Other states have promised to do it but no state has actually managed to do it and that is to provide access to universal health care.  We’re only one of two states last year that reduced the number of uninsured.  We have roughly 92 percent of our population insured and by standards, 94 percent of our kids.  We’re almost there. Let’s get the job done.

"….(As Vilsack refers to New York, he says in an aside to DM Register reporter David Yepsen "Why aren’t you in New York, David?  You would be so much happier in New York.  Elliott Spitzer’s budget is 42 percent of it’s Medicaid.  I think ours is like 17 or 18 percent…")

Vilsack then touted efforts to reduce childhood obesity and teen tobacco use.  He followed that by saying ti was time to lift the ban on "nuclear cell transplant."

Continuing with the quoting:  "In the area of the economy, we’re going to continue to obviously urge the state to continue funding Great Places and to focus the Values Fund in a way that would allow us to become more energy secure.  I think we’ve seen the benefits of investments in energy in this state and I think the governor-elect has the right idea in terms of making Iowa an energy leader.  That needs to be accekerated,

"I’ll speak briefly about raising the minimum wage which we obviously know is going to be increased this year and I’m also going to talk about water resources as an economic opportunity.

"…The last topic of conversation will be the issue fo diversity and I will put it in a slightly different context than you would expect.  You know I’ve thought a lot about the war in Iraq and if you think about it, the current problems today are a result of a failure to accept diversity, of blood and belief and the reality is that our kids are dying and their kids are dying and there is only one way we can pay appropriate honor to those who have sacrificed and it’s not reliant on the Iraqis to stand up.  It’s reliant on us to stand up against intolerance and to stand out against less compassion and less understanding in the world so I’ll talk a little about diversity and then I’ll talk about a subject that I’m not going to talk about now at the end of the speech and then I’ll thank everybody and then you all will write ‘He spoke too long.’  ‘He said too much.’ ‘He didn’t say enough.’  It’s a hard speech to write because to a great extent you’re yesterday’s news."

Yepsen asked Vilsack is he wished he had started earlier on some of the priority items he laid out for legislators to act upon.

Vilsack answered:  "Well you know hindsight’s a great thing, David, but earlier would have meant right in the throes of a fiscal crisis unseen in 50 years…in a legislature that was dominated by the Farm Bureau who thought of itself eight years ago as an agricultural organization and I’m now told by one of its chief executives that they look on themselves as an environmental organization.  That’s a great change.  The reality is that none of these jobs ever get finished….

"…The point of this is that the work is never done.  It’s not like you get to a point where you say ‘Well, geez, I don’t ever have to think about this issue again."

"…The question is ‘Have we started something?  Have we made progress?’  That’s the question that you have to ask and I would attest to you I don’t think there’s any other state in teh country that has made more progress than we have."

Mike Glover from AP asked if Vilsack regrets having a Republican legisalture during his 8-year tenure and now, as Vilsack leaves, there’s a Democratic legislature in town.

Vilsack responded:  "Well you know, yea.  If I had more money.  I mean you can’t look at it this way.  I look at it this way:  what have we done?  We have moved the state forward and we have done it under very difficult and (under) what some would say are impossible odds…We’ve laid the foundation…so it wasn’t done on my watch.  Hey, that doesn’t matter.  The point is that people’s lives are better and we are as a people are better, in my view.  That’s what excites me "

Reka Basu of the DM Register asked Vilsack to talk about the art of compromise and if he felt there were areas in which he compromised too much or not enough.  "Compromise generally occurs in the moment…" is how Vilsack began his answer, mentioning the "haggling" that occured in the very room where the news conference was occuring.

"…While people are very concerned about the future of the country, as they should be, they are most  positively oriented about the future of the state and I tell you what.  Think about this.  You’re swimming upstream.  You’ve got on the nightly news kids dying each day.  You’ve got on the front page of our newspaper…The Register…with a headline:  Bush wants more troops and a huge picture of flags guys carrying a coffin of yet another soldier we’ve lost and you’re supposed to tell people ‘Hey, there’s a better day here’?  It’s hard to do but people…take pride in the notion that Iowa is doing something better than anybody else in the country has done.  That is a huge thing for us, for the psyche of Iowa."

"Look, folks.  This was not easy and we did, frankly, our team did a helluva job and I’m proud of it and sure, could we have done more? Give me more money.  Give me a new legislature.  Absolutely but I didn’t have more money and I didn’t have a legislature that was my party but we moved the state forward and that the exciting thing."

"…This national government is trying to make us frightful and scared and less hopeful here we are at our level saying ‘There’s reason to be hopeful’ and there is."

Kathie Obradovich of the DM Register asked a question about the speech, and whether it was actually written.

"It’s been written 85 different times.  At a quarter ’til one it was being written and I know what’s on that paper but I don’t know whether that’s what I’m actually going to say."

Obradovich followed up:  "What are things are you doing this week that you’ve alrways wanted to do?"

Vilsack said:  "I’ll tell you the thing I’m doing this week that I hate doing is packing.  Fortunately, Christie is doing most of it."

Mrs. Vilsack told me in mid-December that they are moving into an apartment in Des Moines that is near Terrace Hill.

Now, for those of you who keep asking, here is why I nearly fell out of the first row of the House balcony today during Vilsack’s speech:  Because of a technical glitch that occured 18 minutes before Radio Iowa went "live" with Vilsack’s speech, I had to run from the statehouse press room and up the three flights of stairs to the third floor balcony in the Iowa House.  I was breathing deeply by the time I got up there, and all the dust swirling in the air up there was oppressive.

About 12 minutes into Vilsack’s speech I had to leave the balcony and adjourn to a nearby restroom on the third floor to retch.  (This was not related to the content of the speech, but the dust content of the air.)   As I was returning to my Radio Iowa perch in the balcony, I grabbed the arm of the balcony chair on the aisle and it lifted in my hands.  It was not bolted down. I was saved from tumbling by a woman who grabbed my arm.  The only thing that wound up tumbling over the balcony was my Bic pen.  The next line out of the governor’s mouth was:  "The highlight of the tour was a trip to the top of our Capitol."  I kid you not. Vilsack said "trip" right after I tripped.      

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.