Vilsack “town hall” @ Iowa State Fair

UPDATE: Here's the Radio Iowa story and audio from the event.

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, is due to appear soon here at the show ring where State Fair champions are sold.  Bleachers are arranged around the small show ring, and air conditioning is keeping us comfortable.  At about 9:40 Vilsack arrived and was greeted by applause from the crowd.  Vilsack, wearing a long-sleeved shirt, jeans and what we in the press section believe to be cowboy boots, is standing as Congressman Leonard Boswell (D-Des Moines) delivers an introduction.

Iowa Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge who farmed with her husband in Albia and served for eight years as Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture gets to make a few introductory remarks.  "True Iowans just can't stay away from the Fair," Judge joked, before adding she hopes to "make sure before (Vilsack) leaves he has a corn dog and  pork chop on a stick.  I've seen him do it before, so I know he can do it."

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A new title for Vilsack

No, he has not been knighted by the queen.  Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack — the current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture — and his wife, Christie, are grandparents.  Their oldest son, Jess, and his wife, Kate, are the parents of a newborn — a baby boy.

Obama spends Earth Day in Newton

President Obama makes his first trip back to Iowa today since taking the oath of office.  His last visit to Iowa came on Halloween, 2008. 


His visit to the old Maytag washer and dryer factory on the north side of Newton is an Earth Day moment, intended to highlight the conversation of this plant by Trinity Structural Towers into a place where the huge towers that support wind turbines are built.  About 140 people are employed here.  Some of them were waiting outside the plant at 10 o'clock, but they declined to speak with reporters.

An anti-abortion protester was stationed right across the street from the plant, advising reporters that they would not report about his presence (proving his wrong with this sentence, I am).  Someone soon pulled up with a boom box.  It was tuned to KGGO, a local Des Moines "classic rock" station and the sound was turned way up, to drown out the protester.  The first song we heard was U2's "Bloody Sunday."

A business across the street from the factory which sells scooters is celebrating Earth Day/Obama's visit by having its selection of scooters lined up outside in the parking lot, festooned with balloons to attract attention.  A few folks were observed strolling by the scooters, but we saw no sales made during our time outside, waiting in line to enter the facility.

An Obama advance person advised the waiting "throng" of local reporters and photographers to stand on the grass, not the driveway into this facility.  To some, this seemed a celebratory Earth Day moment.  Others feared the trampling would kill the grass.  Soon, orders were issued that the media types were to line up, two-by-two, on the sidewalk stretching east and west along the factory's outer fence line.  Thus, the grass was saved from intense trampling.

As we made our way closer to the door, a television truck celebrated Earth Day by firing up their fossil-fuel-powered generator.  Plumes of fumes floated over the waiting journalists.

Once past the security check, journalists found a set up with provides a folding table for the small but hardy group of Iowa journalists with laptops and the three radio folks who are here.  Newsman Randy Van from Newton radio station KCOB is set up at this table, ready to broadcast the event live.  Iowa Public Radio's Jeneane Beck — a former KCOB employee — is sitting next to Mr. Van.  I am sitting to Jeneane's right, plunking away on the laptop.

A small stage is set up.  An American flag, a dark blue flag with the prsidential seal and a lectern are featured.  In front of the stage, there's an array of nearly 200 chairs for the invited guests.  Former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack is here, as are several legislators, Secretary of State Michael Mauro (who endorsed HRC before the Caucuses) and Attorney General Tom Miller (who endorsed Obama during Obama's first trip to Iowa in 2007). 

There's a literal hum of electricity in the air.  Trails of flourescent lights are high above on the ceiling of this manufacturing plant, but a separate lighting and electrical system have been brought in to power all the media equipment and special lighting for the event itself.

UPDATE:  I was in the "local pool" which means I was walking around in a glob of reporters, photographers and sound people as Obama toured the factory.  He talked with plant managers.  At two points in the tour, though, he talked with workers.  You may listen to what two workers had to say about their conversation with the president.  The quality of the sound file is not great; when the president's helicopter landed, the workers fired up the machines and the noise overrode my Marantz' ability to get clear audio.

UPDATE II:  Jonathan Martin from The Politico asked press secretary Robert Gibbs about the "Iowa experience." 

UPDATE III:  Here's the first Radio Iowa storyAnd here's another — about tire gauges. That second story includes Obama's reference to compact fluorescent lightbulbs. He called them "squirrelly." 

Both stories have an audio link at the bottom of the page if you'd like to listen to Obama's 34 minute long speech.

Vilsack & The Cookie Monster

Former Mount Pleasant, Iowa Mayor/former State Senator/former Iowa Governor and current US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is featured in a Politico video — with Sesame Street's Cookie Monster.  Vilsack wisely declines to name the Sesame Street character he thinks most closely resembles President Obama. In one short section of the video, it looks like former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack was on the scene with her husband.

UPDATE:  Kudos to The Cedar Rapids Gazette's Todd Dorman over at his 24/7 Dorman blog for catching an Onion article about Vilsack.

Sally Pederson joins Christie Vilsack

In the summer of 1998, gubernatorial candidate Tom Vilsack (D-Mt Pleasant then, now D-Washington, DC) chose an unconventional running mate, someone who had never held elective office before. Sally Pederson, a former editor at Meredith Corporation with a long resume of charity work in the Des Moines area, served as Vilsack's lieutenant governor from January, 1999 to January, 2007.  Today, a news release indicates she is joining forces with Vilsack's wife, Christie, on a project,  Details below:

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Vilsacks with the new boss

The New York Post, um, posted a slide show of some photographs the official White House photographer took during the first days of the Obama Administration. Here's a picture of Vice President Joe Biden taking a picture of former Mount Pleasant Mayor/former State Senator/former Iowa Governor/current U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and his wife, Christie, with President Obama.

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:

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A primer on Tom Vilsack, Obama’s choice for ag sec

Vilsack230 Former Iowa Governor Tom J. Vilsack, 58, will be introduced this morning as President-elect Barack Obama's nominee for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.  There are thousands of stories in the Radio Iowa archive about Vilsack.  I'll provide links to some in order to provide a bit of biography and background.

In May of 2004, Radio Iowa ran a nine-part series of stories profiling Vilsack because John Kerry, the presumptive 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, was considering Vilsack as a potential running mate.  Here are the segments of that series:

    Tom Vilsack, the accidental politician? –  If you look at Tom Vilsack's resume, it looks like a flow chart that a college professor would use to illustrate how to move up the political ranks. Vilsack was elected his town's mayor three times, then he won a seat in the state legislature which he held for five years. Vilsack followed that with two successful campaigns for governor…

    Vilsack: the state senate years – Tom Vilsack was elected to the state Senate in 1992 and tackled complicated issues, like tinkering with the formula used to calculate how much businesses pay into the state's unemployment compensation fund. Vilsack tried to find some middle ground in the brewing controversy over large-scale livestock operations…

    Vilsack:  the 1998 campaign for governor – 1998 was a big year in Iowa politics. Republican Governor Terry Branstad was not seeking re-election after 16 years in the job. Two democrats launched campaigns for governor — Tom Vilsack and Mark McCormick, a Des Moines attorney who had been a justice on Iowa's Supreme Court. During that campaign, Vilsack cast himself as the champion of the little guy…

    Vilsack:  weathering the storms – In January of 1999, Tom Vilsack was sworn in as Iowa's 40th governor. Republicans Bob Ray and Terry Branstad had been governor for 30 years, and Vilsack offended statehouse Democrats and the state workers union that had backed him when he chose to keep many of the administrators who'd been working for the previous Republican governor…

    Vilsack's brushes with disaster – Once he became governor, it sometimes seemed as if Tom Vilsack might not survive the experience. Early in his first term, Vilsack traveled to the far east on a trade mission, and wound up in the midst of an earthquake in Taiwan. "I had rosary beads next to my bed," Vilsack said. "I grabbed them and I just said a prayer…

    Vilsack:  "I like governing." – …"Do you like campaigning?" Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson asked. Vilsack laughed. "I like governing and I like campaigning in terms of meeting people, going out and talking to folks, shaking hands, visiting with them, finding out what's on their mind," Vilsack replied. "There are other aspects of campaigning that, you know, I could do without."

    Vilsack accomplishments, legacy – Governor Tom Vilsack will leave his mark on Iowa because of two major programs. The first, called Vision Iowa, hands out state grants for construction of major community attractions like the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines and the Mississippi River Museum complex in Dubuque… 

    Vilsack, the speechmaker – …"Many believe that elections are about winning and indeed that is an important aspect of any election, but more fundamental than winning is the fight — what it is that you fight for, who you fight for and what you stand for," Vilsack said during a speech in 2002…

    Vilsack counts labor as an asset – …"It's very helpful that he's a policy wonk because that's what we end up dealing with is policies and how they impact our members and the services we provide," AFSCME Council 61 president Jan Corderman said during an interview with Radio Iowa.

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Biden — in Des Moines, Iowa — says McCain health care ideas a “bridge to nowhere”

"Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get serious.  As Barack said, ‘What do they think we are, completely stupid?’  Completely stupid that they’re going to change the way things are when in fact they say nothing, nothing," Joe Biden said of the messages delivered by John McCain and Sarah Palin at the RNC in St. Paul last week.  "…John has this great idea.  He’s going to give every American a $5000 tax credit which is going to encourage every employer to say, ‘Well, now I can drop health insurance,’ but the average cost of every plan is $12,000 and that’s what I call a bridge to nowhere, an absolute bridge to nowhere. That is a bridge too far."

Listen to Biden’s 35 minute speech (mp3 at bottom of page).

What follows is a live blog of Biden’s appearance in DSM, IA:

Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden is due in Des Moines at an event on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in about an hour.  It’s his first trip back to Iowa since he was revealed as Obama’s pick for a running mate.  It’s also his first stop back in Iowa since the January 3rd Caucuses.

The venue is a large, barn-like structure in which baby animals are housed during the 11-day run of the State Fair.  An American flag has been suspended along the northern third of the western wall.  About 300 chairs have been set out; all but a few have been occupied an hour before the event is to start.  A long line of folks waited along the outside of the building, in the rain, until they were allowed entry shortly before two o’clock.

The campaign soundtrack includes some of the familiar songs, including the song "Move Along" by the All-American Rejects. "…Move along, move along like I know you do; And even when your hope is gone; Move along, move along just to make it through; Move along; (Go on, go on, go on, go on)’ When everything is wrong we move along; (Go on, go on, go on, go on); When everything is wrong, we move along; Along, along, along."

At 2:30 p.m., the crowd is asked to rise for prayer.  A woman who I don’t think identified herself Reverend Angie Witmer of Plymouth Congregational Church in Des Moines is at the microphone  "…Be with all those who work, day after day, to change the world, one person, one moment at a time…Remind us that changing the world isn’t something that other people do.  It’s up to all of us…May we all feel your presence…May what we see and hear and experience here today set our hearts on fire…Together, with one another and with you, we can change the world.  May it be so.  Amen."

Next, the crowd rose to recite the Pledge.  A brief interlude of audience kibitzing fills the air with chatter from the crowd, then it’s back to the campaign soundtrack.  "Ain’t no stoppin’ us now," a 1970ss disco hit from McFadden & Whitehead, is next up on the play list.

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Photographer on the loose

Alert national newsman catches former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and his wife, Christie, on patio of Denver eatery.  Can you identify their fellow diner?  UPDATE:  we have a winner!  Yes, you are correct, that is Craig Veroga, manager of "Vilsack ’08" — the campaign for president.