Vilsack not exactly a household name

I met a friend for dinner recently in one of the restaurants in the "East Village" of Des Moines and table talk turned to Tom Vilsack.  My friend has lived in Iowa for three years, is keenly interested in politics, attended the Caucuses in 2004, but revealed "I wouldn’t recognize his voice if I heard it."  Vilsack is a blank slate to her.   

One of the reasons for that is Vilsack hasn’t exactly been using the bully pulpit.  The governor’s schedule for today said he would hold his "final weekly news conference" this morning at the statehouse.  Reporters were giggling at the use of the word "weekly." 

A review of the record shows Vilsack did not hold a news conference in December.  (He did appear on The Daily Show and Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press in December, though.)  Vilsack did have that big "announcement" thing in Mount Pleasant at the end of that month, but there was no news conference associated with that.  The lone news conference Vilsack held in November was on the 1st, when he appeared alongside Chet Culver, the Democratic candidate for governor. 

Vilsack held one news conference in October — via cell phone on October 3.  There was one news conference in September on the 12th when Vilsack called in via telephone to talk with Iowa reporters.  In August, I covered Vilsack’s appearance at the Iowa State Fair with Newt Gingrich.  He also answered reporters’ questions after a speech in Clear Lake on August 9. 

I quit looking back through the daily records once I reached July 31, 2006, but as you can see, Vilsack’s staff can hardly claim the man held "weekly" news conferences.

For today’s news conference, Vilsack’s staff brought in coffee and donuts.  At Vilsack’s invitation folks from Drake University talked about the effort they’ve led to promote the purchase of Iowa-grown food.  Vilsack then reclaimed the microphone.

"I think we actually brought donuts today for you, but nobody’s eating them," Vilsack said to reporters in the room. 

"David, how about a donut?" Vilsack asked DM Register columnist David Yepsen.

"Why do you ask me that question?" Yepsen retored, as the room erupted in laughter.

"You’re sort of the dean of this outfit, you know.  Either you or Glover," Vilsack replied, casting his gaze to AP reporter Mike Glover who was lounging on the table beside the two boxes of donuts.  "Glover’s sitting right next to ’em and he obviously doesn’t look like he eats too many donuts." 

Glover then asked a question, and Vilsack spoke directly to reporters in the room.

"I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to be governor but I’ve also appreciated the opportunity and the relationship I’ve had with the press in the State of Iowa.  I have a lot of respect for the people who work in journalism.  It is a tough and difficult job.  I watched my wife, Christie, do a weekly column and saw how hard she worked on that column for the Mount Pleasant News so I appreciate how difficult this job is and I just want to make sure that, in a very small way, we thanked you for the work that you do because I wouldn’t be able to do the job as governor — communicating with the people of Iowa — unless you all did your job and did it well.  As I travel around the country and visit with other folks I realize that there’s a high level of professionalism in journalism in Iowa and I appreciate it," Vilsack said.

After the news conference, I asked Vilsack which donut he was going to select.  Vilsack podnered for a while, looking for a "custard-filled" donut.  Using the wax paper, he reached in and selected one but it was not the donut he wished it to be.

"I’ll take it," I offered, to be helpful.  It was the first donut out of the box.  Vilsack handed it to me. It was a glazed donut with chocolate icing.  Upon consultation with AP photographer Charlie Neibergall, I ate the donut rather than encase it in a glass container just in case Vilsack becomes president.  Vilsack had used the wax paper, so the donut did not bear his fingerprint and would likely bring not even a penny on eBay.

Vilsack chatting with O. Kay

As other reporters filed by and dipped into the box of donuts, Vilsack stood chatting with me and Yepsen. 

Vilsack said after all the effort that went into his condition of the state speech, I almost stole his "thunder" by toppling off the House balcony.  "Have you thanked that lady who saved you?" he asked.  She has my eternal gratitude.

Vilsack then walked into the entryway into the private part of the governor’s offices, but walked right back out into the briefing room — inviting reporters to see what was behind that door.  It was a box of "the good stuff" right there on the counter — Dutch Letters and a cookie sheet of sticky rolls.  Vilsack joked the "good stuff" had been saved for the staff and reporters had gotten the dregs.      

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About O.Kay Henderson

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