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Vilsack to get Agriculture post

Wed., Dec. 17, 2008

Fourth former candidate tabbed for Cabinet

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who aggressively campaigned for Sen. Hillary Clinton before his state’s precinct caucuses in January, will be named agriculture secretary by President-elect Barack Obama, three Democratic officials confirmed Tuesday.

The formal announcement was expected this morning at a news conference in Chicago.

Vilsack declined to comment on the report.

The former two-term Democratic governor has been a supporter of renewable energy and pushed for development of Iowa’s ethanol industry. The state is one of the nation’s top producers of corn and hogs and also has a large meat packing industry.

During the campaign for the Iowa caucuses, Vilsack was the top Clinton official in the state and often appeared with the former first lady. He also frequently questioned Obama’s preparedness for president.

But after Clinton’s departure from the race, Vilsack campaigned for Obama’s general election effort in Iowa and other states. In fact, Vilsack would be Obama’s fourth high-level appointment of a former presidential campaign rival to his team – following Clinton, Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Bill Richardson.

Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, praised the pick.

“He 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 in a statement.

A former mayor and state legislator from Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Vilsack campaigned for president but dropped out of the race in February 2007 after just 86 days of campaigning.

While running for president, he took an unusual position for a farm-state official in arguing to cut subsidies for agricultural commodity crops and channel the money toward payments that improve environmental practices. He has argued on behalf of targeting agricultural policy more toward production of renewable energy and published newspaper articles in the run-up to the November election in support of Obama’s energy policies.

In an essay published in October, he urged greater investment in cellulosic ethanol, bio-fuel production plants and wind farms, as well as offering “carbon credits” to farmers whose production reduces greenhouse gases associated with global warming.

“These credits then can be sold on the open market just as if they were soybeans or lean hogs,” Vilsack wrote. “The result is the diversification of the average family farm portfolio.”

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