Who is Tom Vilsack - Secretary of Agriculture nominee: Biography, Political Career and Life?
Tom Vilsack. Photo: thegazette.com

Who is Tom Vilsack?

Thomas James Vilsack, born December 13, 1950, is an American politician and lawyer who served as the 30th United States secretary of agriculture from 2009 until 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, he was the 40th governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007.

Early life

According to CNN Politics, Vilsack was born in a Roman Catholic orphanage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his 23-year-old birth mother named had lived since September 1950 under the pseudonym of "Gloria"; he was baptized as "Kenneth". He was adopted in 1951 by Bud Vilsack and his wife Dolly Vilsack, a real-estate agent and insurance salesman. They named him Thomas James.


According to buildbackbetter, Vilsack attended Shady Side Academy, a preparatory high school in Pittsburgh. He graduated from Hamilton College with a B.A. in 1972 and his JD from Albany Law School in 1975. He worked in a private law firm before starting his career in politics

Personal life

Who is Tom Vilsack - Secretary of Agriculture nominee: Biography, Political Career and Life?
Tom Vilsack's family. Photo: starsunfolded.com

Vilsack met his wife, Ann Christine "Christie" Vilsack, in a cafeteria while at Hamilton College in New York in October 1968. Vilsack approached her and asked, "Are you a Humphrey or a Nixon supporter?" She replied "Humphrey" and they soon began dating. The couple was married on August 18, 1973, in Christie Vilsack's hometown of Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Vilsack and his wife moved to Mount Pleasant in 1975, where he joined his father-in-law’s law practice.

Tom and Christie Vilsack have two sons, Jess and Doug.



1975-1998 - Practices law.

1987-1992 - Mayor of Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

1992 - Elected to the Iowa Senate.

1994 - Wins reelection to the Iowa Senate.

1998 - Becomes the first Democrat elected governor of Iowa in more than 30 years.

1999 - January 12, 2007 - Governor of Iowa.

2004 - Chair of the Democratic Governors' Association.

2006 - Vilsack files a statement of candidacy to run for the White House in 2008, becoming the first prominent Democrat to do so.

2007 - Drops out of the 2008 presidential race.

+ Endorses Hillary Clinton and becomes co-chairman of her national campaign.

+ Joins Minneapolis-based international law firm, Dorsey and Whitney, as a managing partner.

2008 - Is nominated by President-elect Barack Obama to be agriculture secretary.

2009 - Is sworn in as the 30th secretary of the Department of Agriculture after a unanimous US Senate confirmation.

2010 - Calls for the resignation of USDA official Shirley Sherrod after an excerpted video clip of Sherrod is posted online, in which Sherrod discusses an incident involving a white farmer. Vilsack contends that he made the decision without conferring with the White House.

+ Vilsack apologizes to Sherrod after a video of the full speech shows that her remarks from the clip were taken out of context. Vilsack offers Sherrod another job with the Department of Agriculture, which she later declines.

2016 - President Obama names Vilsack his Cabinet-level point person to address the problem of heroin and other opiate use in rural communities.

2017 - Vilsack steps down as agriculture secretary one week early.

+ Becomes the president and CEO of the US Dairy Export Council (USDEC).

+ Colorado State University announces that Vilsack and his wife, Christie Vilsack, will join the university as advisers.

2020 - Vilsack comes forward to claim the $150,000 Powerball prize he won on January 22 in the Iowa Lottery.

Governor of Iowa

Who is Tom Vilsack - Secretary of Agriculture nominee: Biography, Political Career and Life?
Vilsack in a meeting of Iowa. Photo: qctimes.com

In 1998, Terry Branstad chose not to seek re-election after 16 years as governor. The Iowa Republican Party nominated Jim Ross Lightfoot, a former U.S. Representative. Vilsack defeated former Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark McCormick in the Democratic primary and chose Sally Pederson as his running mate. Lightfoot was the odds-on favorite to succeed Branstad and polls consistently showed him in the lead. However, Vilsack narrowly won the general election and became the first Democrat to serve as governor of Iowa in 30 years and only the fifth Democrat to hold the office in the 20th century.

During the 2000 contest for the Democratic presidential nomination between Vice President Al Gore and former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, he remained neutral.

In 2002 he won his second term in office by defeating Republican challenger attorney Doug Gross by eight percentage points.

According to buildbackbetter.gov, as the 40th Governor of Iowa, Vilsack led the charge on major infrastructure investments, implementing a successful program that spurred the creation of popular projects across the state. He worked across party lines to help create the Grow Iowa Values Fund, an initiative to invest in the state’s entrepreneurs and spark economic development.

Secretary of Agriculture

Vilsack joined USDEC in January 2017 after serving eight years as the Nation's 30th Secretary of Agriculture. As the leader of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Vilsack worked diligently to strengthen the American agricultural economy, build vibrant rural communities, and create new markets for the tremendous innovation of rural America. During his tenure, Vilsack fought to put Americans back to work and to create a strong and sustainable economy. Under his leadership, USDA supported America's farmers, ranchers, and growers, who are driving the rural economy forward, provided food assistance to millions of Americans, carried out unprecedented conservation efforts, made record investments in our rural communities, and helped provide a safe, sufficient and nutritious food supply for the American people, reported source.colostate.edu

Nominated to Biden's administration

Who is Tom Vilsack - Secretary of Agriculture nominee: Biography, Political Career and Life?
Photo: eenews.net

In December 2020, Biden announced he would nominate Vilsack to again serve as the Secretary of Agriculture. The move was met by some with criticism, because of Vilsack's perceived relationship with the status quo and corporate agriculture.

Mr. Vilsack faces a steep challenge, with progressive and environmental groups warning that he is too friendly with big industrial agriculture businesses. Furthermore, rural farmers, who voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump, are wary that more regulations are in store under a Democratic administration.

Farm states have been a stronghold for Republicans over the past decade and — despite frustration with Mr. Trump among farmers over his trade policies — the president still dominated in heavily rural areas in the 2020 election, losing some farm states like Wisconsin because of the strength of Mr. Biden’s support in cities and suburbs.

Eager to make inroads in rural America, some Democrats fear that Mr. Vilsack is not the ideal ambassador. Critics of Mr. Vilsack, who recently earned $1 million a year as a lobbyist for the dairy industry, worry that he will favor big industry over independent farmers and not do enough to ensure worker safety, according to The New York Times.

Vilsack on the role of government in food choices

In March 2016, Politico reporter Catherine Boudreau asked Vilsack, "Why is the government in the business of telling us what to eat?"

Vilsack replied, "It is important to all of us because health care costs are incurred when we are in a situation, as we are today in this country, where a lot of folks are obese or overweight. There are chronic diseases that impact the quality of their life and the amount of medical and health care expenses we are all spending. It's also a situation where we won't be as productive, and we're particularly concerned about our children and the fact that nearly a third of our children are obese or at risk of being obese. So, it's something that needs to be focused on."

For more information about Biden's latest pick for his cabinet, please click here!

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