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Vilsack tabbed as next U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

Agriculture.com Staff 12/16/2008 @ 5:17pm

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is slated to be selected as the Obama administration's secretary of agriculture, according to news wire reports Tuesday evening.

President-elect Barack Obama is expected to make the announcement at a news conference in Chicago on Wednesday morning.

Vilsack was elected governor of Iowa in 1998 and re-elected to a second term four years later. He ran for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president, but shortly withdrew, later to become national co-chair for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Since May 2007, Vilsack, an attorney, has employed by a Minneapolis-based law firm.

Vilsack is a former mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and former member of the Iowa Senate.

Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, a Colorado farmer-rancher who last week was rumored to be the top pick for the agriculture post, will be named as secretary of the interior, sources said.

Vilsack appeared to be out of the running for the ag post, according to reports last week. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin told Agriculture Online on Wednesday that he contacted the Obama transition team to suggest Vilsack as a potential ag secretary.

But Washington sources contacted said Vilsack was no longer on the short list for the position.

That made the news of the appointment a surprise to fellow Iowan, Senator Charles Grassley.

"This comes as a surprise since about three weeks ago Governor Vilsack stated that he was not in contention for the job, but it sure isn't a surprise because of his qualifications. As Governor of Iowa he has a firsthand look at the role of agriculture in our global economy," Grassley said in a statement Tuesday night. "I'm happy for him, happy for Iowa and this is welcome news for agriculture."

Like Grassley, Harkin says he's pleased with Vilsack's appointment. "[Vilsack] knows production agriculture and he knows the changes we need to ensure its profitability and future, including for young and beginning farmers and ranchers," Harkin said late Tuesday. "Tom Vilsack has the experience, dedication and forward-looking thinking critically needed to build a better future for all Americans in food, agriculture, conservation, and the economic vitality of rural communities."

Challenges do lie ahead for the incoming Secretary of Agriculture, says Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). The ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee says he's hopeful Vilsack will be quick to work on the big issues facing American farmers.

"I am hopeful the incoming administration will focus on several issues facing our farmers and ranchers including implementation of the new farm bill, ensuring the safety and security of our food supply, and making certain we remain steadfast in trade negotiations," Chambliss said in a Wednesday statment. "I look forward to working with the Secretary designate on these issues as I have with my Iowa colleagues, Senators Grassley and Harkin, to ensure USDA is prepared to meet the challenges ahead."

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