Monday, November 24, 2008

Vilsack Wrong Tom

We were so sure. Who better than a former governor from not just any state, but ag Iowa whose caucus-goers planted Barack Obama's feet squarely on the path toward his field of dreams.

Everyone said so, even the Washington Post reported that former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack was a "near shoo-in" for Obama's cabinet position as Secretary of Agriculture.

Everyone said so that is, except Obama and now "Vilsack ends ag secretary speculation." (DMRegister) It isn't going to happen.

"Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack on Sunday said that he won't be the next agriculture secretary, ending speculation that an Iowan would snag the post important to a large swath of the state's economy. In an e-mail, Vilsack said he had never been contacted by aides to President-elect Barack Obama about that position or any other."

You can hear the air going out of the Iowan-in-the-Obama-cabinet balloon. Why not Vilsack? We may be able to answer that question only when we know who Obama settles on. But he's given us big clues.

Obama's 13-page policy position "Rural Leadership for Rural America" shows that Obama supports ensuring that "farm programs are strong and are targeted to support family farm farmers."

Part of that support is spelled out succinctly on his rural issues site. Obama will "implement a $250,000 payment limitation so that we help family farmers - not large corporate agribusiness," something Congress has not had the political will to accomplish on several tries.

So really, in light of Obama's policy positions on agriculture, Vilsack never had a chance. Vilsack never saw an agribusiness he didn't like, in fact he "has a glowing reputation as being a schill for agribusiness biotech giants like Monsanto." (Grassroots) Vilsack had big ideas for agriculture tied to big agribusiness, not the family farmer.

Ag secretary is a key position in the cabinet with a portfolio ranging from overseeing food safety, the food stamp program, food distribution during disaster relief efforts, the U. S. Forestry Service and the food that is fed to our children in school to setting farm policy, national nutritional standards and food labeling.

Who is most likely to fill that bill and support the family farmer?

Perhaps Tom Buis who is currently the president of the National Farmers Union and has advocated for family farmers.

Prior to joining NFU Buis served for nearly five years as senior ag policy advisor to.... guess who.... Obama's close advisor and an early power-behind-the-movement strategist, South Dakota's former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle who will serve in Obama's cabinet as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Buis was also special assistant for ag to U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN), and before moving to Washington was a full-time grain and livestock farmer in Indiana. Buis currently also serves as a member of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers executive committee, an organization that represents more than 600 million international farm families.

Buis sounds like a much better fit for a family-farm friendly administration.

But one thing that seems certain.... this Thanksgiving insofar as ag secretary goes, Vilsack isn't the Tom on the short-list menu.

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