Welcome Back!

Despite claims by President-elect Biden that his administration will not be a third Obama term, a number of his appointees are familiar faces from that not so distant past.  It seems political figures get recycled about as often as coaches.  That said it should not have been a surprise that Joe Biden chose former ag secretary Tom Vilsack to come back to the agency he led for eight years.  The bigger surprise was that Vilsack accepted.  Not only is Vilsack leaving an extremely well compensated job with the US Dairy Export Council but he returns to a position that can be extremely stressful at times.  In fact there was a lot of speculation that he would not finish the second Obama term and towards the end he did look tired and worn down at times.  Obviously he has a good relationship with the President-elect and certainly brings a lot of experience to the job.  While the reaction by most ag groups has been positive there has been a little criticism.  That’s to be expected when you’ve been in public office as long as he has. Vilsack brings a familiarity and track record that ag groups appreciate especially on issues such as biofuels and dairy.  They probably also view him as a reasonable voice for them in upcoming climate policy debates.  In covering him for eight years I found him to be intense but approachable.  We got off to a bit of a bumpy start.  When he first started at USDA he seemed a bit stand offish with the ag press.  I remember having a meeting with his press staff one day at USDA and did my best to explain to them that he could get his message across better if he worked with the media.  Over the years I came to enjoy talking with him at various events across the country.  He is certainly very passionate about certain issues.  One time after doing an interview with him I got up to leave when he came charging across the room at me and got right up in my face.  At first I thought he was upset with something I had said.  Turns out he just wanted to make sure I covered some key topics that he felt strongly about.  I assured him I was already covering those stories and he seemed satisfied.  Another time after giving a speech at a major ag convention, we sat down for an interview and he asked me how I thought he had done.  I appreciated the question and was relieved that I could honestly tell him I thought it was one of his best speeches.  Not sure how our interview would have gone if I had felt and told him otherwise! I look forward to covering him again and seeing if his approach changes at all this time around. I have covered every Secretary of Agriculture since Bob Bergland in the Carter administration but this will be the first time I’ve covered one twice! Most take awhile to settle in but Vilsack should be able to hit the ground running.  I’ve often said one of the biggest tests for an ag secretary is how well they can deliver news to an audience that is skeptical at best and downright angry at worst over a particular policy or issue.  Tom Vilsack has done it before and it probably won’t be long before he’ll need to do it again.  Welcome back Tom!