Inside Vilsack’s confirmation hearing


(See paragraph below for info on picture above.) Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is testifying before the U.S. Senate Ag Committee this morning, part of the process of winning senate confirmation to the job of U.S. Ag Secretary.  I'm listening to it online.  A source inside the hearing room says there's a who's who of Iowans and Iowa-connected political types inside the room.  It includes Dusky Terry and his wife, Connie.  Dusky Terry worked in Vilsack's office when he was governor and Terry ran for Iowa Ag Secretary in 2006 (he lost in a primary). Drake ag law professor Neal Hamilton (a native of Lenox, Iowa, I might add) is there.  Iowans Tim Gannon and Nate Beecher are there, as are non-Iowans Kiki McLean (she was Vilsack's press sec when he ran for presient); B.J. Thornberry (former executive director of the Democratic Governors Association); Shari Jost-Gold (a fundraiser for Vilsack).

Shown in the picture above are, from left to right, Senators Grassley and Harkin and Vilsack.  The woman in the front row who you can see between Harkin & Vilsack is the above-mentioned McLean.  The woman on the far right, just behind Vilsack, with her back to the photographer is Teresa Vilmain, manager of Vilsack's presidential campaign who was brought in for the last few months to manage Hillary Clinton's Iowa Caucus campaign. 

Vilsack just said: "It's important and necessary…"  Reporters like myself who covered Vilsack during his political career in Iowa are quite familiar with that phrase.  He's also using the word "opportunity" a lot this morning. A couple of Vilsack's former colleagues in the Iowa legislature had some things to say about today's hearing.   

Senator Tom Harkin is chair of the Senate Ag Committee.  Harkin's office just released a text of Harkin's opening statement this morning:

Hearing on the Nomination of Thomas J. Vilsack
Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
January 14, 2009
As Prepared for Delivery

“This morning it is my honor to hold this hearing of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry to consider the nomination of Thomas J. Vilsack, former Governor of Iowa, to become Secretary of Agriculture.  I want to welcome you to the Committee, Governor Vilsack, along with your wife, Christie, and a good number of Iowans and others here to support you and wish you well.

“Secretary of Agriculture is a job with far-reaching responsibilities and influence.  Although it is often overlooked, all Americans and many millions more around the world lead better lives each day because of the capable efforts of the people who make up the Department of Agriculture.

“Nothing is more basic to human sustenance than a safe, affordable, and plentiful supply of nutritious food.  Our nation is blessed to have the people, resources, and technology to form a system stretching from farms to family dining tables that allows most of us to take food pretty much for granted.  This level of food security has been possible for only a small slice of human history – and is still out of reach for far too many of the world’s inhabitants, right here in America, too.  The Secretary of Agriculture has a fundamental responsibility to foster a dependable and sustainable food and agriculture system and to provide nutrition assistance to millions of Americans in need.

“We also rely on farms, ranches, and forests for the fiber, timber, and increasingly, renewable forms of energy which are key elements of our economy and way of life.  Rural America contributes greatly to our nation’s wealth, not only by supplying food and other resources, but also through a highly productive and dedicated workforce.

“Yet too often, the citizens of small towns and rural communities do not share in the wealth they help to generate.  And so another crucial role of the Secretary of Agriculture is as a champion of rural communities — dedicated to helping them succeed economically and obtain the necessary elements for a better quality of life.

“The new Secretary of Agriculture faces stiff challenges – many of them made much harder by the economic downturn – and yet there are solid reasons to hope and work for positive change.

“The rural economy and rural businesses are suffering, including in agriculture, where producers are once again in a cost-price squeeze, compounded by tighter credit.  Yet our basic assets in agriculture and rural America are the envy of most of the world.

“Job losses and economic hardship will drive the need for nutrition assistance to record levels across America – rural and urban – and strain USDA and state agencies to deliver this critically important help to families.  The new farm bill strengthened this assistance as will the economic recovery legislation. 

“At the same time, in child nutrition legislation we must enact this year, we have a tremendous opportunity here in this Committee to help reform America’s health system, save lives, and control health care costs.  If we make sure that foods and beverages kids consume in schools are more nutritious, healthier and properly balanced, we will prevent diseases and medical conditions that impair and cut short lives – and cost a lot of money to treat.  We will need the leadership and help of the Secretary of Agriculture and USDA in writing this legislation.

“We have a huge challenge to conserve natural resources in the face of growing world population and demand for commodities and raw materials.  Farms and forests will be pushed for ever greater output.  Doing so sustainably will require a much greater commitment to conservation practices on land in production through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and similar initiatives.

“In renewable energy and other areas, we can and we must create and develop new opportunities in rural America, for example for beginning farmers and in small and start-up businesses.  Producing livestock and poultry is vital to rural economies, and it is essential that markets in this industry are competitive and fair.  The demand for locally-grown and organic foods continues to grow – the fastest growing part of the food chain — providing new and expanding opportunities in rural communities.

“USDA’s food safety and inspection system needs strengthening, yet the progress that has been made shows the system can be improved.

“With the number of hungry people in the world now reaching nearly one billion, we must instill hope by investing more in food and agriculture research and helping developing countries improve agricultural productivity so they will be better able to feed themselves.

“And among the most intractable challenges facing the new Secretary of Agriculture is the intolerable and inexcusable state of civil rights in USDA’s agricultural programs and for USDA employees.  It is essential that we find ways to work together to turn this situation around once and for all.

“It is now my privilege to introduce, along with my colleague Senator Grassley, Governor Tom Vilsack.  He knows production agriculture and what is needed to promote profitability and a better future, including for beginning farmers and ranchers.  He gained a lot of experience the hard way — representing farmers in wrenching financial situations as a county seat lawyer during the farm crisis of the 1980’s.

“As the mayor of Mount Pleasant and as a state senator, he gained valuable experience and insights into the problems, needs, and opportunities of rural communities.  
“As governor, Tom Vilsack built a strong record in promoting renewable energy, rural economic opportunity, and conservation.  He knows how to bring change that will help to strengthen and rebuild the farm and rural economy on a sound foundation.  He has a proven record of working with all sides to seek the right resolution to environmental issues. 

“He is solidly committed to better nutrition and providing food assistance to those who need it.  He created the Iowa Food Policy Council to address the range of interlinked food and agriculture issues. 

“Tom Vilsack’s experience, abilities, dedication, and relish for hard work will serve him and our nation very well as Secretary of Agriculture.

“ Again, we welcome you to the Committee and look forward to your testimony.  I will now turn to our Ranking Member, Senator Chambliss, and then to Senator Grassley.”

UPDATE:  here's an indication of the wide-range of the USDA — out-going US Ag Secretary Ed Schaffer just issued the following edit today:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2009 — Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer today announced six appointments to the National Mango Board. The appointees were nominated to fill a domestic producer position, three importer positions for District II, and two foreign producer positions. They will serve three-year terms that began Jan. 1, 2009 and end on Dec. 31, 2011.

Ted J. Johnson of Sky Valley, Calif. is appointed to the domestic producer position. The three appointees to the District II importer positions are: Curtis DeBerry of Boerne, Texas and Cesar Garcia, Mission, Texas; Sue Duleba, of Mission, Texas, was reappointed. Tomas Paulin Nava of Mexico and Bernardo Jose Malo, Ecuador were appointed to fill the two vacant foreign producer positions.

The National Mango Board administers an industry-funded, national research, promotion, industry and consumer information program. The generic program is designed to maintain, expand and develop domestic markets for fresh mangos. USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service monitors the operations of the board.

More information about the board is available at

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About O.Kay Henderson

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