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Published September 10, 2012, 11:23 AM

Vilsack speaks at DNC

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told delegates to the Democratic convention on Sept. 5 that President Obama has done a lot to help farmers and rural America, but that there is more to do in a second term.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek, Agweek

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told delegates to the Democratic convention on Sept. 5 that President Obama has done a lot to help farmers and rural America, but that there is more to do in a second term.

Vilsack noted that the Obama administration has helped farmers sell their products overseas, has invested in biofuels and is helping farmers with the drought. He also noted that Obama’s mother came from Kansas and that he represented a farm state — Illinois — in the Senate.

“From here, we have more to do — much more,” Vilsack said. “And President Obama has a detailed plan for a new rural economy: more support for small businesses making, creating and innovating; more investment in the production of biofuels and other biomaterials; more trade; and more markets.”

Vilsack also noted that, at their recent convention, Republicans said “they want to ‘take our country back.’ But here’s what I noticed: they didn’t say back to what.

“Well, we know what backwards looks like,” he said. “We know what happened to middle-class families after two tax cuts for people who didn’t need them; after deregulation of the banking and housing sectors; after the historic recession that followed.”

It is rare for an agriculture secretary to speak from the podium at a national political convention, but Vilsack also said he did not have to ask for a speaking slot because campaign manager Jim Messina, a Montanan, called him and asked him to speak. “The effort was taking a phone call,” Vilsack said, adding that he noticed there was not a high-profile rural speaker at the Republican convention.

On Sept. 5, Vilsack told about 300 rural delegates and activists that they can be proud of the accomplishments of the Obama administration in rural America and that a Mitt Romney administration would gut both nutrition and farm programs.

“My main message is that rural Democrats can be proud of the accomplishments of this administration,” Vilsack told Agweek after his speech. “This is a positive message. It is a good message that can be taken out in the countryside.”

Vilsack did not mention the delayed farm bill in his speech from the convention podium, but he pointed out in the interview that Obama has called on Congress to pass the farm bill, “What we are seeing is a delay on the Food, Farm and Jobs Act that is, in part, a Republican attempt not just to reduce nutrition assistance, but the farm programs and crop insurance.”

The secretary also noted that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., now the Republican vice presidential nominee, has proposed a $134 billion cut in nutrition assistance, which not only impacts the recipients but also farm income.

Vilsack also said the Obama administration has established the White House Rural Council and provided assistance to veterans in rural areas.

“I am proud of the record,” Vilsack said. Rural Democrats, he added, can go out and talk to their neighbors about record income and expansion of the food system.

“The president’s approach to getting the deficit under control understands the need for reductions, but recognizes you can’t just cut your way out of the deficit.”

Vilsack said he did not address Republican criticisms of Environmental Protection Agency and Labor Department actions because the Republicans “keep talking about things that are not going to happen.

“There is no dust rule, no spilled milk rule, no child labor rule,” he said. “Republicans know that, and it is unfortunate that we have to get into that kind of approach.

“This is an important group,” Vilsack said of the Democratic delegates and activists. “They have something to really go out and sell.” He also said the activists should ask the Republicans to explain their “severe reductions” in farm programs.

Rural Democrats have a lot of work to do organizationally to get out the vote, he said, noting that he is not focusing on that aspect of the campaign.

“I am just making sure the facts get out,” Vilsack said. “People will make up their minds.”

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