Before the last balloon had dropped at election night parties for President-elect Barack Obama, political junkies were already venturing guesses as to who he would nominate for leadership roles in his administration.
One of the positions that generated the most online speculating was that of Secretary of Agriculture. Names like Jim Hightower, Michael Pollan and even Willie Nelson were tossed around by eager bloggers, but those in the know—including The Washington Post—quashed any hopes of a celebri-secretary by predicting that former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack was a shoo-in.
Vilsack made his only public statement on the matter in The Des Moines Register on Nov. 23, saying he "had never been contacted by aides to President-elect Barack Obama about that position or any other," which forced the speculators to go back to their crystal balls. Other top contenders included Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union.
The answer finally came on Tuesday, when it was announced that the next Secretary of Agriculture will, in fact, be Tom Vilsack.
So, what does Vilsack stand for? While he has been praised by some, such as Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group, for his stance on farm subsidy reform, food programs and conservation, the former governor has come under fire for his support of biotechnology and his association with agribusiness biotech company Monsanto.
Steph Larsen, Rural Policy Organizer for the Center for Rural Affairs, said, "Tom Vilsack is a good choice to implement the vision for rural America that President-elect Obama put forth in the campaign. The Center for Rural Affairs will work with him to keep rural entrepreneurship, agricultural conservation, and family farming and ranching at the forefront of these critical debates."
The Center for Rural Affairs is collecting signatures for an open letter to the new Secretary of Agriculture and it is encouraging others to add comments at this link: http://www.cfra.org/08/grassroots-letter.
Larsen added that there are plenty of other government positions that her organization will be watching closely in the coming weeks. "Many of the decisions about the day to day operations of USDA are made by other political appointments besides the Secretary of Agriculture, and we need good partners there too," she said. "We are especially interested in the allies to fill Under Secretary of Rural Development; USDA General Counsel; Under Secretary of Research, Education and Economics; Natural Resource Conservation Service Chief; and Under Secretary of Marketing and Regulatory Affairs."