Of course, it depends on your viewpoint as to what exactly a “moderate” or “centrist” is, but in today’s increasingly left-leaning climate, most folks would argue those labels fit Barack Obama’s choices to head USDA and the Department of the Interior – Tom Vilsack and Ken Salazar, respectively.
Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, was initially considered the frontrunner to head up USDA but his eventual selection was somewhat of a surprise given his statements that he wasn’t in the running. As is always the case, everyone rushed to put out the perfunctory press release claiming their delight with the Vilsack pick and how they were looking forward to working with him.
In Vilsack’s case, a lawyer by training, the sentiment seems to be generally true. From a cattle-industry standpoint, Vilsack is a staunch supporter of ethanol subsidies – and a packer ban – but in general seems to be a strong supporter of rural America and science-based, real-world solutions. His ag experience, however, is largely that he was the governor of a “farm state.”
In an interview earlier this year, Vilsack indicated his support of a packer ban when he said he agreed with Obama’s support of prohibiting packers from owning livestock. He said, “And I agree with Senators Harkin and Grassley who, along with a number of other Senators from farm and ranch states, have been ardent supporters of ending this kind of direct vertical integration by prohibiting packer ownership of livestock.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Salazar (D-CO), selected to head Obama’s Department of the Interior, has always billed himself as a fifth-generation rancher. More accurately, however, he’s a lawyer specializing in water and environmental law.
Most of Salazar’s life has been spent in the political arena, serving as Colorado's attorney general and heading up the state’s Department of Natural Resources. As a U.S. Senator, he was rarely supportive of beef industry positions, and has been a strong opponent of drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf, utilizing Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and oil-shale development.
As most Colorado producers will tell you, Salazar wears the boots and hat, but those are more for effect than some form of affection. Still, compared to some of the names floated, Salazar probably does harbor some appreciation for ranching and rural America. Still, many environmental groups have expressed anger over Salazar’s appointment due to his ranching ties.
Overall, it’s difficult to find a beef-industry person who followed all of Obama’s election rhetoric who isn’t surprised with the moderate views of his appointments. While we will have to wait some time to know how they will actually govern, at least from an industry viewpoint, the greatest challenges are expected to come from the Congress and not the Obama administration.