Tom Vilsack

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Tom Vilsack

40th Governor of Iowa
Term of office:
January 1999 present (2007)
Lieutenant Governor: Sally Pederson
Predecessor: Terry E. Branstad
Successor: Chet Culver
Born: December 13, 1950
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Political party: Democratic
Profession: Lawyer
Spouse: Christie Vilsack
Religion: Roman Catholic

Thomas James Vilsack (born December 13, 1950) is an American politician, a member of the Democratic Party, and is currently serving as the 40th Governor of the state of Iowa. He was first elected in 1998 and re-elected to a second four-year term in 2002. On November 9, 2006, he became a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States in the 2008 election.

Early life and family

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tom Vilsack was orphaned at birth and placed in a Roman Catholic orphanage. He was adopted in 1951 by Bud and Dolly Vilsack, who raised him in the Roman Catholic faith. His adoptive father was a real-estate agent and insurance salesman, and his adoptive mother was a homemaker. He has recognized that his adoptive mother was an alcoholic.

He attended high school at Shady Side Academy, a preparatory school in Pittsburgh. He received a Bachelor's degree in 1972 from Hamilton College in New York. While at Hamilton College he joined The Delta Upsilon Fraternity. He received a J.D. in 1975 from Albany Law School. He and his wife, Ann Christine "Christie" Bell moved to rural Mount Pleasant, Iowa, her hometown, where he joined his father-in-law in law practice.

Tom and Christie Vilsack have two sons, Jess and Doug. Jess graduated from Hamilton College in 2000 and, like his dad, was a member of The Delta Upsilon Fraternity. Jess received a J.D. from the University of Iowa in May 2003. Doug later graduated from Colorado College and is currently attending the University of Colorado School of Law. He is also a research associate at the School of Law's Energy and Environmental Security Initiative (EESI).

Early political career

Tom Vilsack was elected mayor of Mount Pleasant, Iowa in 1987, following the murder of mayor Ed King by a disgruntled citizen. He was elected to the Iowa State Senate in 1992 by a relatively slim margin. Following election, he worked on legislation requiring companies who received state tax incentives to provide better pay and benefits. He helped pass a law for workers to receive health coverage when changing jobs, and helped re-design Iowa's Workforce Development Department. He also wrote a bill to have the State of Iowa assume a 50% share of local county mental health costs.


In 1998, Terry E. Branstad elected not to seek re-election following sixteen consecutive years as governor. The Iowa Republican Party nominated Jim Ross Lightfoot, a recent former US House Representative. Lightfoot became the odds-on favorite to succeed Branstad. Tom Vilsack defeated former Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark McCormick in the Democratic primary. Vilsack chose as his running mate Sally Pederson. Vilsack narrowly won the general election - making it the first time in 30 years that a Democrat was elected Governor of Iowa.

In 2002 he won his second term in office by defeating Republican challenger attorney Doug Gross. Also in 2002, Vilsack appointed Dr. Stephen Gleason as his Chief of Staff. Gleason resigned in 2005 to pursue a career in Medical Consulting at Health Policy Strategies in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Vilsack speaks at the dedication ceremony of the Iowa Events Center's Wells Fargo Arena, July 12, 2005.
Vilsack speaks at the dedication ceremony of the Iowa Events Center's Wells Fargo Arena, July 12, 2005.

The first year of his second term saw creation of the Grow Iowa Values Fund, a $503 million appropriation designed to boost the Iowa economy by offering grants to corporations and initiatives pledged to create higher-income jobs. Vilsack used a line-item veto, later ruled unconstitutional by the Iowa Supreme Court, to pass the fund, vetoing portions of the bill that would have cut income taxes and eased business regulations. After a special session of the Iowa General Assembly on September 7, 2004, $100 million in state money was set aside to honor previously made commitments. The Grow Iowa Values Fund was reinstated at the end of the 2005 session: under the current law, $50 million per year will be set aside over the next ten years.

Candidates seeking to replace Vilsack, most notably Ed Fallon, have criticized this program. [1] Their complaints include the fact that companies lured into Iowa by the fund, unlike Iowa-based corporations, can be lured away by greater cash incentives elsewhere. Another criticism is that it does nothing to promote new business. [2]

In July 2005, Vilsack signed an executive order allowing all felons who had served their sentences to vote again. Iowa law stipulates that convicted felons permanently lose their right to vote unless restored on an individual basis by the governor; Vilsack has done away with this process. [3]

For most of Tom Vilsack's tenure as Governor, Republicans have held effective majorities in the Iowa General Assembly. Following the November 2, 2004, elections, the 50-member Senate was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans held a 51-49 majority in the House of Representatives.

During the 2005 legislative session, Vilsack signed into law greater restrictions that require products containing the active ingredient pseudoephedrine to be sold behind pharmacy counters, as opposed to open-access at open-shelf level. Those wishing to buy such products must show identification and sign a log book. The new law, designed to reduce methamphetamine use in Iowa, took effect on May 21, 2005.

Vilsack is a member of the National Governors Association Executive Committee. He was chair of the Democratic Governors Association in 2004. He is past chair of the Governors Biotechnology Partnership, the Governors Ethanol Coalition, and the Midwest Governors Conference, and has also been chair and vice chair of the National Governors Association's committee on Natural Resources, where he worked to develop the NGA's farm and energy policies.

Prior to Democratic Presidential candidate Senator John Kerry's (D-Massachusetts) selection of Senator John Edwards, Vilsack was thought to be high on the list of potential running mates for Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. And before the election, it was rumored that Vilsack would have been offered a cabinet-level position in the event of a Kerry victory [citation needed].

In 2005, Vilsack established Heartland PAC, a political action committee aimed at electing Democratic Governors. In the first report, he raised over half a million dollars.

Vilsack's current term as Governor of Iowa expires in 2007. He did not seek a third term, and will be making a run for President of the United States in 2008.

Recent events

On July 16, 2005, Vilsack was named Chair of the Democratic Leadership Council.

On May 12, 2006, Vilsack flew to Israel for a week-long trip to meet Israeli leaders and to get acquainted with the country. The trip was sponsored and organized by AIPAC.[1]

In June of 2006, Vilsack received a standing ovation from the 5,000 attendees at the Windpower 2006 Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, for speaking out for a progressive energy policy for the USA, and increasing the use of renewable energy, such as wind generation of electricity. Iowa, in recent years, has become one of the nation's leading states in development of wind energy.

In a June 2006 poll of Iowans by the Des Moines Register, Governor Vilsack trailed John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry as the candidate likely caucus participants would choose as the Democrat's 2008 presidential nominee, with 10% of respondents favoring Vilsack. [2]

On July 14, 2006, for the first time in 40 years, Iowa lawmakers overrode a Governor's veto. In a special session, the bipartisan bill making it harder for cities to seize private property through use of eminent domain passed through the state legislature.

On November 9, 2006 Vilsack announced that he will be filing the necessary papers with the Federal Election Commission to run for President.[3]

On November 16, 2006, Vilsack presented a speech entitled "Energy Choices for the New Century" at the University of Colorado Law School. [4] The event was co-sponsored by the Energy and Environmental Security Initiative (Eesi), and Western Resource Advocates.

2008 campaign for President

Just two days after the mid-term elections, Tom Vilsack became the second Democrat to announce he's running for President. He said " America's a great country, and now I have the opportunity to begin the process, the legal process of filing papers to run for President of the United States."


  1. ^ Thomas Beaumont, "Gov. Vilsack to travel to Israel this weekend", Des Moines Register, 12 May 2006.
  2. ^ Jonathan Roos, "Vilsack fourth in presidential poll", Des Moines Register, 12 June 2006.
  3. ^ Mike Glover, "Iowa Gov. Vilsack to Run for President", Newsday, 9 November 2006.
  4. ^ Catherine Tsai, "Gov. Vilsack Promotes Renewable Energy", Associated Press, 16 November 2006.

External links

Preceded by:
Terry E. Branstad
Governor of Iowa
1999 - present
Succeeded by:
Chet Culver (Governor-elect


Iowa Governor: Thomas Vilsack
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Iowa Office of the Governor

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Office of Governor Tom Vilsack and Lt. Governor Sally Pederson

Governor Tom Vilsack was elected Iowas 39th Governor in 1998, ... Governor Vilsack has focused on making Iowa a world leader in the renewable energy ...


Iowa governor tosses hat into ring for '08


The Washington Post

MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack became the first Democrat to formally launch his 2008 presidential campaign on Thursday, with a jab at President Bush's leadership and a pledge to overcome the country's challenges with big ideas on energy, education, the economy and health care.

"America needs a president who builds and creates, who makes our country more secure, who is bold and has the courage to create change," Vilsack told a crowd in his adopted hometown. "I will be that president."

Vilsack, who is stepping down in January after two terms, begins his bid for the 2008 Democratic nomination overshadowed by such possible rivals as New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

"You know, I've always been an underdog and a long shot," he told supporters on the campus of Iowa Wesleyan College. "I've always been inspired by the stories of ordinary citizens who worked hard, overcame adversity and succeeded."

Vilsack is the first official candidate for president in 2008, but his announcement comes at a time of accelerating activity among a large cast of characters in what will be one of the most wide-open campaigns in modern history.

Other Democrats considering entering the race are former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh.

Likely Republican contenders include Arizona Sen. John McCain, outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Vilsack's advisers think his personal story will prove compelling.

Orphaned as an infant, he was adopted into the home of a mother who battled alcohol and drug addiction and eventually abandoned her family. She later overcame her addictions, and the family reunited.

"She relied on her faith and her family and her friends," Vilsack said. "And in doing so, she taught me a very valuable lesson. And that is that the courage to create change can overcome the largest of obstacles ... "

Vilsack opened his speech Thursday with a rebuke of Bush's presidency, saying, "We have in the White House a president whose first impulse is to divide and to conquer, who preys on our insecurities and fears for partisan gain, who has robbed us of the assets that have made this country great: our collective sense of community, optimism and the can-do spirit that has built tomorrow's hopes and dreams."

He charged that the country is less safe today than it was six years ago. "Our way of life, our quality of life, our national security has been compromised and put at risk by a national government that's been fiscally irresponsible and by a country that has grown far too dependent on oil, foreign oil from foreign countries, some of which despise us, harbor terrorists, but gladly take our money."

He called energy security a critical challenge in the fight against terrorism and global economic competition. "Energy security will revitalize rural America, reestablish our moral leadership on global warming," he said.

On Iraq, he said it is time to begin to withdraw U.S. troops while redoubling reconstruction efforts. He said the next president must rebuild U.S. alliances around the world to combat the threat of terrorism and isolate enemies.

Copyright 2006 The Seattle Times Company