Tom Vilsack life and biography

Tom Vilsack picture, image, poster

Tom Vilsack biography

Date of birth : 1950-12-13
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Nationality : American
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-06-24
Credited as : Politician and attorney, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Obama administration

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Tom Vilsack (also known as: Thomas J. Vilsack, Thomas Vilsack) born December 13, 1950 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States is an American politician and attorney.

Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack joined U.S. President Barack Obama's cabinet in 2009 as the newest U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Previously, Vilsack had campaigned tirelessly for Hillary Rodham Clinton during her failed bid to capture the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination, which followed his own brief run for the White House. "This has been a great experience," Jeff Zeleny in the New York Times quoted him as saying when he dropped out of the 2008 race. "When you start out life in an orphanage and you run for president of the United States, that's what this country is supposed to be about."

Vilsack was born in 1950 and spent the first 15 months of his life in a Roman Catholic orphanage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his mother had given up the infant she originally named Kenneth. He was adopted by a couple, Bud and Dolly Vilsack, and grew up with a sister. Bud was a real estate agent and insurance salesperson, but the family had persistent money troubles; Dolly drank heavily, and occasionally overdosed on prescription medications. "She'd go up in the attic and lock herself up there for weeks, and all you'd hear would be the dropping of liquor bottles on the floor," Vilsack recalled in a 2008 interview with GQ's Lisa DePaulo. Finally, he told DePaulo, his mother had an epiphany and quit drinking altogether; after that, they had a much better relationship. "She taught me the capacity of the human spirit to overcome anything," he said.

Vilsack met his future wife at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, and wed Christie Bell in 1973. He went on to Albany Law School, then settled in Bell's hometown of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, a town south of Iowa City with a population of about 7,000. Over the next decade he honed his skills as a trial lawyer in private practice with his father-in-law and became active in various community organizations.

Mount Pleasant made national headlines in December of 1986 when a disgruntled citizen walked into a City Council meeting with a handgun and began shooting. The mayor was killed and two council members were wounded. Vilsack was persuaded to run for office to fill the mayoral vacancy, and kept the job for next six years. In 1992, he ran for a seat in the Iowa Senate and won; he was reelected in 1994.

In 1996, after a decade in politics and with the older of his two sons about to graduate from high school, Vilsack announced his intention to quit politics to spend more time with his family. His brother-in-law, Tom Bell, was stunned by this news, and urged him to reassess his political future. Bell even suggested that Vilsack enter the next gubernatorial contest--despite the fact that Iowans had not sent a Democrat to that office since 1966. The next day, Bell died of a heart attack at the age of 50, and Vilsack reconsidered his decision.

Vilsack entered the 1998 gubernatorial race and won the Democratic primary by four percentage points. Pollsters considered him a long shot for the office, betting instead on the Republican named Jim Lightfoot who had Congressional experience, but an old family connection gave Vilsack a surprise boost: back in 1974, the late Tom Bell had served on a Congressional impeachment-inquiry staff during the Watergate crisis with a fellow law school graduate named Hillary Rodham. The First Lady, by then married to U.S. President Bill Clinton but a longtime friend of Vilsack's in-laws, helped the Democratic candidate raise some much-needed campaign funds and even showed up at the Vilsack for Governor pre-election night rally in Iowa. He wound up beating Lightfoot by nearly six percentage points to become the first Democratic governor of the state since 1969.

Vilsack was reelected in 2002 and mentioned as a possible running mate for John Kerry in Kerry's 2004 presidential bid. In 2006, he opted not to run for a third term--Iowa has no term limits for this office--and on November 30, 2006, announced he was entering the race for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination. His campaign centered on two primary issues: an immediate pullout of U.S. troops in Iraq, and a retooled Department of Energy that would become the Department of Energy Security instead, focused on reducing American dependence on foreign oil with the help of biofuels.

On February 23, 2007, Vilsack announced his withdrawal from the race, citing his campaign committee's mounting debts and the increasing difficulty of raising money in a crowded field. "I came up against something for the first time in my life that hard work and effort couldn't overcome," the New York Times's Zeleny quoted him as saying. "I just couldn't work harder, couldn't give it enough."

Soon after that announcement, Vilsack joined Hillary Clinton's campaign as national co-chair. She was expected to win the Iowa Democratic Presidential Caucus in January of 2008 thanks to his help--Vilsack had left the governor's office with an approval rating of nearly 70 percent--but Obama won the first of these influential state-primary victories. Clinton folded her campaign in June after losing the California primary to her main rival for the Democratic nomination. A steadfast party supporter, Vilsack then campaigned for Obama in the lead-up to the candidate's historic November election victory.

The Secretary of Agriculture cabinet post has, since its creation back in the 1880s, usually been given to a politician from a Great Plains state, where economic livelihoods are intrinsically tied to agricultural production and government policies. President-elect Obama declared that Vilsack was his choice for the job on December 17, 2008, and the former governor was confirmed by unanimous Senate vote on January 20, 2009.

Vilsack's role as Secretary of Agriculture is to work with the White House on setting U.S. policies on crops, grain tariffs, subsidies to farmers, and various nutrition-related issues. In February of 2010, he joined the Obama administration's organized campaign to combat rising childhood obesity statistics. "I was an overweight kid," he confessed to Washington Post journalist Jane Black. "I can remember back in those days there weren't the strategies that there are today to deal with those issues. So my parents put this very nasty cartoon of a very overweight young kid with a beanie cap and pasted it on the front of the refrigerator. So every time I opened the refrigerator I had to look at that picture.... I don't want youngsters to go through what I went through."


Born on December 13, 1950, in Pittsburgh, PA; son of Bud (a real estate agent and insurance salesperson) and Dolly (a homemaker) Vilsack; married Ann Christine Bell, August 18, 1973; children: Jess (son), Douglas.
Education: Hamilton College, B.A., 1972; Albany Law School, J.D., 1975.


Attorney in private practice in Mount Pleasant, IA, after 1975; elected mayor of Mount Pleasant, 1987; elected to the Iowa Senate, 1992, reelected 1994; elected governor of Iowa, 1998, reelected, 2002; counsel, Dorsey & Whitney (law firm), 2007-09; national co-chair, Hillary Rodham Clinton for President, 2007-08; confirmed by the U.S. Senate and sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, 2009.

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