Tom Vilsack on Civil Rights

Democratic IA Governor


Claimed diversity of farmers was accounting change by USDA

Vilsack has been criticized for inaccurately stating that the number of farmers of color increased during his first go as secretary of agriculture. In fact, a change in the USDA's method of accounting--not an attempt to confront racism--made the population of farmers appear more diverse than it really is.
Source: Quad City Times on Biden Cabinet , Dec 20, 2020

Failed to protect slaughterhouse works, help black farmers

Groups like the Independent Black Farmers coalition and the Family Farm Action Alliance have strongly criticized Vilsack's record, with the former's president, Michael Stovall, telling Politico, "When it comes to civil rights, the rights of people, he's not for that."

"Vilsack failed to enact protections for slaughterhouse workers or improve the department's treatment of black farmers, and oversaw the approval of high-speed slaughter," Leah Garc‚s, president of Mercy for Animals, said.

Source: Reason magazine on Biden Cabinet , Dec 19, 2020

Apologized for firing black woman over doctored video

In July 2010, a misleadingly edited clip of Shirley Sherrod, the department's Georgia state director of rural development, was posted. Andrew Breitbart edited the clip to make it sound as though she refused to help [a farmer] because he was white. Sherrod was forced to resign. Vilsack admitted he had been taken in a hit job and offered Sherrod a new position at the USDA, telling reporters, "This is a good woman, she's been put through hell and I could have and should have done a better job."
Source: Reason magazine on Biden Cabinet , Dec 19, 2020

Foreclosed on black farmers six times more than whites

A 2019 investigation painted a devastating picture of Vilsack's civil rights record, finding that he dragged out discrimination cases until they reached the statute of limitations and no longer needed resolution, and foreclosed on Black farmers six times as often as white farmers. "The department sent a lower share of loan dollars to black farmers than it had under President Bush, then used census data in misleading ways to burnish its record on civil rights," they report.
Source: Reason magazine on Biden Cabinet , Dec 19, 2020

Pushed for minority voting rights on Farm Service committees

A veteran of the Vilsack USDA noted he reformed the Farm Service Agency's county committees, a key form of community consultation. Committees used to have non-voting "minority advisers" to address racial equity concerns, and Vilsack successfully pushed to give those representatives voting rights. Another source defended Vilsack's record on civil rights, citing his department's increase in microloans to historically disadvantaged farmers.
Source: Reason magazine on Biden Cabinet , Dec 19, 2020

Root out inequities and systemic racism in systems we govern

Progressive groups had pushed Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge and would have been the first Black woman to lead the agency, which has a troubled history of discriminating against Black farmers.

Accepting the nomination alongside Biden, Vilsack said he would ensure a "diverse and inclusive senior leadership team" in the department, and "continue the important work of rooting out inequities and systemic racism in the systems we govern and the programs we lead."

Source: U.S. News & World Report on Biden Cabinet , Dec 12, 2020

Resolved all USDA discrimination lawsuits

Secretary Vilsack helped pass and implement the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act and led a comprehensive effort to improve the safety of the American food supply. He made civil rights a top priority, reaching historic resolutions to all major past cases of discrimination brought against USDA and taking definitive action to move USDA into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider.
Source: USDA.gov official website for Obama Cabinet biographies , Dec 31, 2018

Appointed judges who said yes to gay marriage

Former Iowa Governor and current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack praised the establishment of same-sex marriage in his state -- but stopped just short of endorsing it nationwide. "I appointed the judges -- most of the judges -- that made that decision. I think it was a good decision," Vilsack said about the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court case that legalized gay marriage in his state -- and provoked a furious conservative backlash and recalls of several of the justices involved.
Source: 2016 Veepstakes: Politico.com, "Gay Marriage in Iowa" , Jan 23, 2015

2011: Gay marriage at state level only, for now

Former Iowa Governor and current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack praised the establishment of same-sex marriage in his state--but stopped just short of endorsing it nationwide. "I appointed most of the judges that made that decision. I think it was a good decision," Vilsack said about the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court case that legalized gay marriage in his state--and provoked a furious conservative backlash and recalls of several of the justices involved.

Still, Vilsack wouldn't comment on whether that view on same-sex marriage extended nationwide. "I don't know what that's got to do with the Secretary of Agriculture," Vilsack told POLITICO. The USDA chief said the question of gay marriage was a distraction to the issues that farmers, ranchers and rural Americans faced. "I will be happy to answer that question someday," he said. "That day is not today."

Source: Obama Cabinet: Politico.com, "Vilsack backs gay marriage" , Dec 15, 2011

Rated “B” by National Review on pro-gay issues

On Gay Marriage: The National Review gives Gilmore, an “F” on the issue of gay marriage. By way of comparison to other then governors, Schwarzenegger of California had a “D.” Rell of Connecticut had a “C.” Vilsack of Iowa a “B.” Baldacci of Maine an “A.”

Grades were based upon, “ whether they sign or veto legislation regarding homosexuality. They also receive grades based on their public opinions expressed on homosexual issues.”

Source: RSLevinson.com “All Things Queer”, review of 2008 gay issues , Jan 1, 2007

Religion is important, but no one religion should dominate

Religion is a really important component to the make up of individuals and communities and it must be respected and honored. You ask for guidance and you ask for assistance and you ask for help from a much higher power. There needs, however, to be a recognition in this country that we are great because we recognize and respect all religions and that there's no one religion that should dominate or that should be the religion or the government's religion or the preferred religion.
Source: National Press Club speech (for Obama Cabinet) , Feb 28, 2006

Hosted Governor’s Conference on LGBT Youth

Students told stories of harassment to 500 educators and others at Drake University who attended the Governor’s Conference on LGBT Youth, hosted by Gov. Tom Vilsack, Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth in Iowa Schools Task Force.
Source: PoliticalGateway.com , Feb 26, 2006

Declared English as Iowa’s official language

Vilsack signed a measure in 2002 declaring English the state’s official language. The law makes English the state’s official language and requires that all government proceedings be conducted in English. Exceptions are for teaching foreign languages in school, and on trade and similar issues. Aides said Vilsack decided to make Iowa the 27th state with such a law because the measure was more symbolic. Influencing Vilsack was a $1 million increase for programs to teach English as a second language.
Source: Associated Press , Jun 17, 2004

Demand full funding to help Americans vote

Other federal priorities include protecting state sovereignty to establish tax policy and full funding for the Help America Vote Act.
Source: Press Release , Jan 23, 2004

Shift from group preferences to economic empowerment of all.

Vilsack signed the manifesto, "A New Agenda for the New Decade":

Strengthen America’s Common Civic Culture
The more ethnically and culturally diverse America becomes, the harder we must all work to affirm our common civic culture -- the values and democratic institutions we share and that define our national identity as Americans. This means we should resist an “identity politics” that confers rights and entitlements on groups and instead affirm our common rights and responsibilities as citizens. Multiethnic democracy requires fighting discrimination against marginalized groups; empowering the disadvantaged to join the economic, political, and cultural mainstream; and respecting diversity while insisting that what we have in common as Americans is more important than how we differ. One way to encourage an ethic of citizenship and mutual obligation is to promote voluntary national service. If expanded to become available to everyone who wants to participate, national service can help turn the strong impulse toward volunteerism among our young people into a major resource in addressing our social problems. It will also help revive a sense of patriotism and national unity at a time when military service is no longer the common experience of young Americans.

Source: The Hyde Park Declaration 00-DLC6 on Aug 1, 2000

Support principles embodied in the Equal Rights Amendment.

Vilsack adopted the National Governors Association policy:

In 1976 the National Governors Association expressed support for ratification and implementation of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would constitutionally guarantee full citizenship rights and opportunities for women. In 1982 the drive for ratification fell short, and efforts to initiate the amendatory process were taken.

The National Governors Association reaffirms its support for the principles embodied in the Equal Rights Amendment, i.e., that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on the basis of gender.

Source: NGA Executive Committee Policy EC-14: Equal Rights Policy 01-NGA1 on Feb 15, 2001

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Page last updated: Sep 01, 2021