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Tom Vilsack's Online Policy Shop

As part of Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack's (D) attempt to make his policy mark on the national stage, he has been conducting an online discussion on his Heartland PAC Web site over the past two months to solicit ideas on education policy.

Iowa Gov. Vilsack was reportedly on John Kerry's VP short list last year. Will he head the ticket in '08? (AP Photo)

Yesterday, Vilsack was slated to send "the final compilation and synthesis" of the suggestions to fellow Democratic governors and Democratic candidates running for governorships in 2006 (read the ideas here). 

The education discussion was the first of a series of online conversations Vilsack is trying to facilitate through his political action committee that, in his words, "offer solutions to issues people care about." Vilsack's next project asks readers to define what the Democratic Party stands for in 10 words or less.

The success of this project remains an open question, but through it Vilsack has started to establish himself as one of the serious policy thinkers at the state level in the party, a nice niche should he decide to run for president in 2008.  Asked about that possibility recently on CNN, Vilsack kept his eyes squarely focused on state politics: "I want to be the best governor of Iowa I can possibly be," he said. "Let's take look at what happens in 2006. Let's focus on those 36 governors races."

Vilsack is saying and doing a lot of things right in the early jockeying for the 2008 nomination. Make sure to watch his financial filing for Heartland PAC early next year.  Vilsack raised an impressive $635,000 during the first six months of 2005 -- a total bolstered by several six-figure donations from labor organizations. Should Vilsack show several million dollars raised through the end of the year, it would begin to answer questions about his fundraising prowess on the national stage. Remember, though, that Heartland PAC can accept unlimited donations, a luxury Vilsack would not enjoy as a presidential candidate.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 1, 2005; 8:20 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: 2006 Midterms: Early Spin From Both Sides


This is a great post.
We would be honored if we could be added to this great blog. We are from

Good work keeps it up!

Posted by: World business for sale | January 27, 2006 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I love Vilsack but no comments on the blog? least make some up guys.

Posted by: 0 comments | January 25, 2006 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I interned in Governor Vilsack's office and I have seen him to be a gifted and sensible leader. Vilsack 2008!

Posted by: JEO | December 14, 2005 3:22 PM | Report abuse

I knew little of Vilsak until I saw his DLC speech in August. I was very impressed in terms of effectiveness and his rhetoric hit all the right notes. His speech followed Hillary's and was ten times more emotive and more credible. I can see him resonating with a great deal of Americans.

Posted by: watermelonman | December 5, 2005 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Chris, you really are trying to push this scandal thing too far. The 'scandal' exists in the fact that Bill Knapp and Denny Elwell ripped the state off, not that Vilsack was involved. "Highest reaches of the Iowa Democratic party" is really misleading because basically you're just talking about Knapp's fundraising abilities for Democrats. Too bad Elwell is just as big of a contributure for Repubs.

Posted by: Chris Woods | December 3, 2005 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Vilsack has been mediocre at best. He has accomplished nothing of note. Iowa is rated as having the worst business environment in the country. His solution has been to bribe businesses to stay with checks from the Iowa taxpayer via the Iowa "Values" Fund, a program panned by virtually every one, including 4 of the 5 Democrats seeking to replace him (the hold-out is the Fund's administrator). Vilsack has done nothing to address the problems with Iowa's business climate in his 6/7 years.

Maybe he has "championed" this and "worked for" that but there are no accomplishments to back this up. Iowa has followed national trends in the economy, hardly attributable to a guv's initiatives. Vilsack now has a corruption scandal brewing in the highest reaches of the Iowa Democratic party.

No one in Iowa can articulate what this governor has done to deserve national attention. Maybe someone from the outside knows something we don't...

Posted by: chris | December 2, 2005 7:52 PM | Report abuse

I find it instructive that Tom Vilsack's "outreach effort" is through a Political Action Committee, a fundraising organization. It is also instructive that the neat-sounding "Democrats in Ten Words" event is, far from encouraging thoughtful community-building as Mr. Cillizza suggests, a simple one-page html form to be filled out with contact information. What do you think Vilsack's PAC is going to do with that contact information? Visitors' "ten words" thoughts, in the meanwhile, are swallowed up by the database and are not being shared with others. That's hardly community-building.

Irregular Times

Posted by: Jim | December 2, 2005 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Policy wonk or not, he is not a great as a speaker. Going door to door in Iowa is one thing. Going on major TV in New York and Jersey and California wont play to well. He may be an excellent Governor. I just cant see him on national level winning over independants.

Posted by: db | December 2, 2005 12:00 AM | Report abuse

No Iowa Democrat should brag about the gimmack that Vilack and the Republicans are trying as a complicated waiver scheme that the Feds approved to allow the state to avoid paying back a very large amount federal Medicaid funds. The debt was in connection with Medicaid funds that were diverted to the Senior Living Trust Fund.

The new Medicaid deal, which was introduced by Republican Rep. Danny Carrol of Grinnell, with Vilsack's blessings, and which may sound good on the surface, is not so hot when you learn the details.

The most troublesome part of that deal is that the new people who were added by this waiver deal have to be treated at either Broadlawns or University Hospital in Iowa City and the 4 state mental Health clinics.

It will be a big travel and time burden for many families who try to take part in this new shakey plan. I saw shakey because the University Hospital does not know if it will be able to handle these new cases.

here is one story about the plan but there have been others on the topics.

Posted by: Charlotte Walker | December 1, 2005 9:57 PM | Report abuse

These assessments of Tom Vilsack's job as Iowa's Governor are extreme and untrue. How can you say Vilsack has been ineffective when our state is in such great shape? The Iowa Values Fund is helping to make Iowa the leader in biotechnology and financial services and has brought billions of dollars in investments to communities across this state. This program is vital to bringing thousands of job opportunities to our state. Because of Vilsack, most of our children have healthcare coverage and another 30,000 Iowans will have access to Medicaid. It is hard to argue with this record of accomplishment.

The reason Governor Vilsack is gaining national attention for his policy is because is in an innovative policymaker. And the majority of Iowans support because he has created a positive future for our state.

Posted by: iowapolitik | December 1, 2005 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Governor Vilsack has been the best thing to happen to Iowa in the last 10 years. He has created new jobs, championed diversifying the Iowa economy, and gave Iowa opportunity when the rest of the country is struggling to get by in difficult economic times. He has helped make Iowa a renewable resource Mecca of not only the US, but the world. Most impressively he is a man of his word, he doesn't just hype up renewable energy he drives in an E85 fueled car (for those you who don't know that is an ethanol blended fuel). Vilsack has put Iowa in position to have a brighter future and although we will have a spirited race for governor, there is no doubt in my mind if one more time there was a place on the ballot to select Vilsack there would be no race we would have a three term Democratic Governor in Iowa.

Posted by: Politicstrueblue | December 1, 2005 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Vilsack routinely throws out ideas which are lame and go nowhere: in the last gas crisis he suggested sending each Iowan with a drivers' license a $10 check; he wanted to create an immigration free zone until someone remined him that is a federal matter, he ballyhooed a drug prescription program which was a complete bust; these are only three examples. His support for a fake rainforest in Iowa as a "tourist" attraction is simply bizarre. His appearance at the National Press Club where he did not know the difference between hybrids and GMOs was an embarrassment to the state. His education policy has pitted K-12 against our Regents institutions, which are now seriously underfunded.
He likes to confer behind closed doors with the Republican legislative leadership and then demand the Democratic Party caucus accept the deal, a process which has seriously weakened his party. He has not had a civil right initiative and the state civil rights laws are weak and ineffectual. His support for big business in the economic development arena goes beyond this usual weakness of governors: supported giving a $40 million subsidy to Excel, fully owned subsidary of Cargill to build a beef packing plant which no community in the state wanted. His "Vision Iowa" program and venture capital programs are the dream of any Republican and have not worked at elevating wage levels in Iowa. There is no hint of personal or financial corruption about the guy, but this is true for most Iowa politicans. To be impressed with his blogging skills is fine, but his governance record is weak.
His apparent desire to be president coupled with his recent time-consuming marthon interest feels more like male menopausal madness. When he seriously addresses raising the minimum wage in Iowa, an idea which the vast majority of Iowans, Rep and Dems support, or any other substntive policy initiative which would improve the lot of common people then he might be looked at with more interest.

Posted by: clara oleson | December 1, 2005 5:21 PM | Report abuse

My biggest problem with Vilsack is his stance toward agriculture in Iowa. Is he too stupid to understand the gravity of the situation? Or too much concerned with his own ambitions and fund raising - probably including massive funds from biotech monsters like Monsanto - to take the longer view and see what unregulated biotech use of agriculture in Iowa will mean? For example: corn is wind-pollinated; HOW can he support using it for "pharming" when the wind will contaminate 'normal' cornfields for miles and miles around? Does the nation want insulin in its cornflakes and its animal feed? We have terrible water and air pollution from the unregulated expansion of hog factory farms. If he's interested in improved education, he might start with himself.

Posted by: caroline dieterle | December 1, 2005 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Charlotte must be reading something the rest of us have overlooked. In my opinion Vilsack has done rather well when you consider the size of the Republican majority in the legislature for most of his tenure and its vision for Iowa.
Sixteen years of Governor Branstad infected the entire apparatus of state government. I am sure Governor Vilsack has some regrets, but I believe he has forced Iowa to reexamine itself and to focus on its future. I sense more pride in Iowa by Iowans today.

Posted by: bobo | December 1, 2005 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Charlotte must be reading something the rest of us have overlooked. In my opinion Vilsack has done rather well when you consider the size of the Republican majority in the legislature for most of his tenure and its vision for Iowa.
Sixteen years of Governor Branstad infected the entire apparatus of state government. I am sure Governor Vilsack has some regrets, but I believe he has forced Iowa to reexamine itself and to focus on its future. I sense more pride in Iowa by Iowans today.

Posted by: bobo | December 1, 2005 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I live in Iowa and believe me, if Vilsack is a serious policy wonk then the Democratic Party is in big trouble.Vilsack signed the English Only bill; favors massive biotechnololgy development in a state with lots of small to medium organic farms;came close a couple of times to signing legislation that was opposed by his pro-choice backers;has done little to halt corporate hog farm gorwth; has a ditzy wife (sorry, but it's true); and is so middle of the road boring that he would put an insomiac to sleep. Right now he's maneuvering behind the scenes to secure 'favored son' status because he knows he wouldn't win a primary even in his own state.

Posted by: Carol deProsse | December 1, 2005 12:14 PM | Report abuse

What kind of PAC is this that can accept unlimited corporate contributions? How is it organized?

Posted by: Brad | December 1, 2005 11:59 AM | Report abuse


I'm interested in your comment that the state is dead last in every category. Where do you get that from? Do you have any details? I'd love to see some information on that.

Posted by: turtleman | December 1, 2005 11:50 AM | Report abuse

As a former Iowan, I can't say I completely disagree with you (although I would argue he's better than Branstead any day), but I think you have a bit of a misconception. When do reporters look carefully at records? It didn't seem to happen in 2004.

I have to agree that Vilsack is pretty web savvy, which is encouraging to me. I don't know if he has a chance at the Presidency, but he's at least innovative.

Posted by: Michael Faris | December 1, 2005 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Vilsack is the weakest governor that Iowa has ever had. He has been a dismal failure as a Democrat. He has been a push over for the Republicans and goes along with most Republican issues. The state is in bad shape in almost every catagory.

His pretty boy look will get shredded when reporters begin to look carefully as his record and when he gets off script.
cw in Iowa City, IA

Posted by: Charlotte Walker | December 1, 2005 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Governor Vilsack continues to impress me with his online skill. He is out-performing and out atheleting both Kerry and Clinton with his online outreach efforts and putting in the real time it takes to build a constituency online.

How? By actually talking to people!

I am one of the converted now.

Posted by: turtleman | December 1, 2005 11:16 AM | Report abuse

he blog piece gives a bit of short shrift -- in the case of the education discussion, in which I have been a major participant, Gov. Vilsack also posted several times at dailykos, the most widely read political blog in the country. This demonstrates his understanding of the importance of using the blogging universe as a means of soliciting and disseminating ideas, something that many other candidates have not as yet fully grasped.

Posted by: teacherken | December 1, 2005 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Tom Vilsack knows how to topple giants. He won his first term as Iowa Governor by taking out a shoe-in Republican in a "big surprise" upset.

So, is Vilsack the "dark-horse" candidate already? Is it actually possible we might someday have another President to come out of Iowa?

So far, it is just speculation, but for those who know Iowa politics, it is clear that Vilsack is the best shot at the White House that Iowa has offered up in many years.

We can only hope the rest of the country gets to know this steady, determined and downright populist Governor better, in the months and years ahead of us.


Posted by: John Patterson | December 1, 2005 9:51 AM | Report abuse

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