By Philip Rucker and Dan Morgan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, a strong proponent of ethanol who made a brief bid for the presidency in 2007, will be named today as President-elect Barack Obama's nominee for agriculture secretary, a senior Democratic official said.
Obama is expected to announce Vilsack and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), his pick for interior secretary, at a news conference in Chicago, as he races to round out his Cabinet before a Christmas vacation. Vilsack, 58, will lead a sprawling federal bureaucracy charged with overseeing farm subsidies, land conservation, food safety and hunger programs.
Both environmentalists and food industry leaders reacted positively to the choice of Vilsack, a political centrist.
"We're encouraged by it," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. "He thinks we need to reform the subsidy system, he recognizes the importance of the food programs, and he's very good on conservation."
Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union, called Vilsack a "great choice" who "has an understanding of the challenges and opportunities that exist in rural America."
Left as an infant at a Roman Catholic orphanage, Vilsack was raised by his adoptive parents in Pittsburgh. He settled in his wife's home town of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and was elected governor in 1998, serving two four-year terms.
On the often controversial issue of farm subsidies, Vilsack has taken a moderate position, siding at times with those favoring a shift of funding in the agriculture budget from traditional subsidies to new kinds of supports for farmers that improve soil and water management.
"I didn't get much of a reaction from farmers because deep down most of them know the system needs to be changed," Vilsack said in a recent interview with The Washington Post.
Staff writer Al Kamen contributed to this report.