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Biden’s USDA pick met with backlash from farmers, progressives

"Stale white bread" Vilsack headed department under Obama.

Updated: December 12, 2020 - 1:24pm

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Joe Biden's intent to have Tom Vilsack lead the United States Department of Agriculture has been met with backlash from a wide variety of groups, including some farmers as well as progressive activists and other commentators.

Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa and the Secretary of Agriculture for the entirety of Barack Obama's presidency, was announced as Biden's pick on Friday. The choice was met with immediate backlash from numerous quarters

Vilsack "is not good for the agriculture industry, period," Michael Stovall, the founder of Independent Black Farmers, told Politico on Friday. Stovall alleged that "when it comes to civil rights, the rights of people, he's not for that."

Lloyd Wright, the former director of civil rights at the USDA, also had sharp criticism of Vilsack, telling Politico: "When it came to issues of race, he was one of the worst I've ever come in contact with. What we don't want is Vilsack to come back."

At the Intercept, Claire Kelloway argued that Biden's choice demonstrates "everything that's wrong with the Democratic Party."

Vilsack "doesn’t actually speak to the totality and needs of rural people," she claimed. "In his work at the Department of Agriculture and as a dairy lobbyist, Vilsack represents the powerful few of Big Ag."

The progressive magazine Mother Jones, meanwhile, referred to Vilsack as "stale white bread."

Criticism of Vilsack occurred this week ahead of the official announcement of his appointment. Leaked audio from a virtual call between Biden and civil rights leaders revealed pushback against appointing the politician to the USDA once more.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson told Biden that picking Vilsack as USDA head could have negative effects on Democrats' chances in Georgia's runoff elections next month, due to Vilsack's having fired Shirley Sherrod from her position as the USDA's Georgia director of rural development.

"I will submit to you that former Secretary Vilsack could have a disastrous impact on voters in Georgia," Johnson said. "Shirley Sherrod is a civil rights legend, a hero."

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