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Vilsack Pulls From Familiar Circles to Staff USDA

By Ed O'Keefe

Updated 5:49 p.m. ET

Proving that it pays to work for the winning team, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has drawn heavily from reliable Democratic Party networks to fill out his senior staff. Most of the new hires, many of whom have been on the job for weeks, can be tied to at least one of the following:

Lindsay Daschle
Lindsay Daschle, left, in Sioux Falls, S.D. on Nov. 3, 2004, the night then-Sen. Tom Daschle (D) conceded defeat. (Photo by Melina Mara/Post)

Tom Daschle: The former Senate majority leader's legacy will live on at USDA, since Vilsack has hired his daughter Lindsay Daschle to serve as his confidential secretary; former Daschle Senate staffer Grant Leslie will serve as a senior adviser. The hires help prove a theory advanced by The Post's Ceci Connolly last month: "Over three decades on Capitol Hill, including 10 years as the Senate Democratic leader, Daschle has nurtured one of the largest, most experienced talent pools in the city. ... Daschle's tentacles ... [reach] across the entire administration from the upper echelons of the White House to mid-level departmental positions to Obama's kitchen cabinet."

Ken Salazar: Several of the former Colorado senator's staffers will serve in senior positions for Vilsack. In addition to his Daschle connections, Leslie also served as legislative director to Salazar; Denise Scott, who will be executive assistant to Vilsack was special assistant to Salazar while he served in the Senate.

The Obama Campaign: Several former state directors, campaign advisers and press staffers will hold similar positions at USDA. John Berge, who was Obama's Nebraska state director, will serve as White House liaison to USDA; and David Lazarus, who will serve as senior adviser to the secretary, was rural vote deputy director for the campaign and also served on the transition team.

UPDATE: Lest you think former Sen. Salazar did not hire any of his former staffers to work with him at the Interior Department, four members of his senior staff once also worked in his Senate office: his deputy communications director, senior adviser, scheduler and counselor, according to Interior's press office.

Read the full list of new USDA staff below.


WASHINGTON, March 24, 2009 -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the names of individuals who will hold top staff positions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.

"These individuals bring the Department a breadth of experience and expertise in issues that include agriculture, food safety, international relations, legislative affairs, environmental issues and civil rights," said Vilsack. "This team appreciates the many missions of the Department of Agriculture and I look forward to working with them to help realize the President's goals for a safe, sustainable and nutritious food supply and maintaining a vital and prosperous rural America."


John Berge: White House Liaison to USDA. Most recently, Berge served as Executive Director of the Western Nebraska Community College Foundation in Scottsbluff, Nebraska and State Director of the Obama for America Campaign in Nebraska. Berge has worked on the staffs of former Senators Jim Exon (D-NE), Bob Kerrey (D-NE) and current Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE). Berge was State Executive Director of USDA's Farm Service Agency in Nebraska during the Clinton Administration. He is from Gering, Nebraska and attended Western Nebraska Community College and Chadron State College, Chadron, Nebraska.

Lindsay Daschle: Confidential Assistant to the Secretary. Daschle most recently was a Research Assistant for Commissioner Bart Chilton at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. She has also served as Public Policy Director for the National Organization for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and as Development Associate for the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric AIDS Foundation. A native of Washington, D.C., Daschle is a graduate of Syracuse University and holds a master's degree in sociology from New York University.

Max Holtzman: Senior Advisor to the Secretary. A Florida native, Holtzman has been an attorney for more than 14 years. He was a principal of the Holtzman Group in Coral Gables, Florida where he helped provide strategic consulting to multi-national companies doing business in the United States. Holtzman is Founding Chairman of Adopt-A-Classroom, a 10-year-old not-for-profit that supports teachers and students in all 50 states. He began his career with the Florida Department of Agriculture. Holtzman served as a senior advisor to the Obama campaign in Florida. He graduated in agricultural economics from the University of Florida and received his law degree from The University of Miami School of Law.

Grant Leslie: Senior Advisor to the Secretary. Leslie comes to USDA from the Senate, where she was Legislative Director to former Senator Ken Salazar. Salazar (D-Colo.) is now Secretary of the Interior Department. Leslie also served on the staff of former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). While working in the Senate, Grant covered a range of issues, including agriculture, rural development, transportation, trade, and telecommunications. Originally from Georgia, Grant is a graduate of Boston University.

David Lazarus: Senior Advisor to the Secretary. Lazarus served as Agriculture Legislative Assistant to Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) and was the Rural Vote Deputy Director for the Obama for America campaign. Immediately after the election, he served on the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team. Lazarus is a native of Illinois and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Sam Liebert: Staff Assistant to the Secretary. Liebert most recently served as Deputy Director of State Operations for President Obama's successful campaign in Florida. He joined Obama's primary campaign in the Iowa Caucuses, and worked through seven other primary states. Liebert was previously the CEO and Founder of Midwest Public Safety LLC, a private security firm based in Janesville, Wisconsin. Liebert has also served on the staffs of Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Governor Ted Strickland (D-OH). A Wisconsin native, Liebert attended the University of Wisconsin-Rock County and is now completing his B.S. degree in national security from George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia.

Rohan Patel: Director of Advance for the Secretary. A native of northern Indiana, Patel recently served as Political Director for President Obama's campaign in Indiana. He worked in Iowa, Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi, North Carolina and at headquarters in Chicago during his two years on the Obama Presidential campaign. After the campaign, Patel worked on the Presidential Inaugural Committee. He has also served on the staffs of Governor Chet Culver (D-IA), the Iowa Senate Democrats, and Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN). Patel is a graduate of Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

Denise Scott: Executive Assistant to the Secretary. Most recently, Scott served as Special Assistant to Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and to former Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO). Salazar is now Secretary of the Department of the Interior. Scott has also held positions with George Washington University and the National Congress of Black Women. She graduated from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Karen Stuck: Confidential Assistant to the Secretary. Stuck retired from USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in 2008 with 35 years of federal service in the Executive and Legislative branches. She held a number of staff and management positions in FSIS' Office of Public Affairs and Office of International Affairs (OIA). She served as an Assistant Administrator of the OIA before retiring with 29 years of service to USDA. Before joining USDA, Stuck was a press assistant on the staff of Senator Dick Clark (D-Iowa). Originally from South Dakota, she is a graduate of South Dakota State University and holds a master's degree in public administration from George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Beatina Theopold: Advance Staff for the Secretary. Theopold most recently served as a Regional Field Director for President Obama's presidential campaign in Indiana. She joined Obama's primary campaign in Nevada, and worked in four other primary states. Before the campaign, Theopold was an executive assistant for the CEO of Vernier Watches in New York City. A native of Ithaca, New York, she holds a degree in political science and Spanish from New York University.


Bobby Gravitz: Director of Speechwriting and Research. Gravitz served as the South Florida Press Secretary for President Obama's campaign. He also worked as spokesperson for the campaign in 5 states in the primaries, begining in Iowa. Before joining the campaign, Gravitz served as Deputy Research Director for Secretary Tom Vilsack's presidential campaign. He also worked as a research associate at a public records research firm in Oakland, California. Gravitz is from Silver Spring, Maryland, and a graduate of Yale University.

Nayyera Haq: Press Secretary. Haq most recently worked on the Presidential Transition Team and as Western Communications Director for the Obama campaign. Prior to her recent campaign work, Haq was Press Secretary for the Children's Defense Fund. She has served also on the staffs of Members of Congress, including Congressman John Salazar (D-CO) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and has managed media outreach programs at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee. A native of Staten Island, New York, Haq studied history at the University of Michigan and has a master's of studies in law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.

Chris Mather: Director. Mather has spent her career as a communications specialist in the advocacy and political arenas. Most recently she was a spokesperson for the Presidential Inaugural Committee and the Press Secretary for Dr. Jill Biden on the Obama for America campaign. She has worked for a number of progressive organizations with offices throughout the country, helping create and implement issue campaigns and communications strategies. She has also worked for candidates for federal office and the Democratic Party. A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mather is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 25, 2009; 5:01 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Revolving Door  
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Your caption says, "Lindsay Daschle, left and her mother Linda," etc.
If I'm not mistaken, Lindsay's mother is Tom Daschle's first wife, Lori.

Posted by: JamesWebster | March 26, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm curious, what exactly is a 'confidential secretary?" How is Lindsay qualified for this position?

Her fathers liabilities were known to the public. But, what about his 'tentacles?' I think further investigation of Lindsay's background is necessary and required of the Post and other newspapers.

I look forward to and expect to read more on this subject in the future.

Posted by: ben91aro | March 30, 2009 8:55 PM | Report abuse

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