Many Democrats were rather surprised to see Secretary of Agriculture and former Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack sitting next to Governor Terry Branstad on Tuesday morning. Vilsack was there to give support to Branstad’s new proposal to divert funding from schools in the one-cent sales tax to water quality projects. The plan extends the money provided to schools into 2049, but many Democrats (and some Republicans) have seen it as needlessly tying together two priorities to the same funding source that could hurt education resources in the long-run.
“The ISEA is extremely disappointed that Secretary Vilsack decided to support Governor Branstad’s recent proposal,” Jean Hessburg, a spokesperson for ISEA, told Starting Line.
Starting Line had previously heard from a number of sources that Vilsack’s actions had made him unwelcome at ISEA’s conference tomorrow. However, ISEA says he was never offered up as a potential speaker from the Hillary Clinton campaign.
In addition to ISEA, while few Democrats have been interested in going on the record to criticize their former Governor, behind the scenes Democrats and their allies are furious over Vilsack’s presence at the Branstad press conference. Adding to the aggravation is that Democrats in the legislature were given no heads up from the Governor’s office about the new idea, yet Vilsack was apparently part of the planning.
The fallout could be a little awkward for Vilsack’s endorsed candidate, Hillary Clinton. The NEA was an early backer of Clinton, one of her first major union endorsements that has worked hard for her since. Clinton has also repeatedly bashed Branstad on the campaign trail in Iowa for his education funding vetoes, often eliciting the biggest applause at her events. Vilsack sometimes joins Clinton on the campaign trail as one of her best-known and liked Iowa supporters. But after introducing Hillary Clinton on Monday night, the next morning he was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Terry Branstad.
The best thing you could probably say about Vilsack in this whole situation is that he’s been out of Iowa politics for so long that he simply didn’t realize how radioactive Branstad has become to Democrats on education. Democrats would likely always be skeptical of a plan similar to that of Branstad’s, but it’s made especially toxic from the Governor’s involvement. And Vilsack does have a positive record of trying to improve water quality. Some insiders have noted they’re waiting to see how much further Vilsack publicly supports Branstad’s plan before they pass too harsh of judgement.
Still, if Vilsack is planning on re-entering Iowa politics after President Obama’s term ends, as many have speculated, backing Terry Branstad on any sort of proposal that diverts money away from education commitments is perhaps not the wisest strategy.
by Pat Rynard