Obama announces Salazar is his pick for interior, Vilsack for agriculture

As expected, President-elect Barack Obama made it official Wednesday morning in Chicago: Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar is his choice to be the next secretary of the interior. At the same press conference, Obama announced former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack will be his nominee for secretary of agriculture — an appointment rumored as recently as last week to belong to Salazar’s brother, Rep. John Salazar. Ken Salazar and Vilsack are “guardians of the American landscape on which the health of our economy and the well-being of our families so heavily depend,” Obama said in his introductory remarks.

Remarks of President-Elect Barack Obama – As prepared for delivery
Departments of Agriculture and Interior Announcement
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Chicago, Illinois

Earlier this week, I announced key members of the team that will help us seek new forms of energy to build a new economy, to enhance our security, and to leave our children a planet that’s safer and cleaner. Today, I am pleased to announce two other key advisors and members of this team –- Governor Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture and Senator Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior. Together, they will serve as guardians of the American landscape on which the health of our economy and the well-being of our families so heavily depend.

One of the great blessings bestowed upon us as Americans is the bounty of our natural environment –- from the mountains and parks where we go hiking to the rivers and streams where we go fishing to the forests and fields where the proud tradition of hunting is passed on through the generations. But our wide open spaces are not only a blessing to be enjoyed, they are the foundation of a brighter future. How we harness our natural resources — from the farmlands of Iowa to the springs of Colorado –- will speak not only to our quality of life, but to our economic growth and our energy future.

It’s time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that’s committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all our families. That means ensuring that even as we are promoting development where it makes sense, we are also fulfilling our obligation to protect our national treasures. It means ensuring that we are using our farmlands not only to strengthen our agricultural economy, but to grow advanced biofuels that will help make the United States energy independent. And it means ensuring that the policies being shaped at the Departments of Agriculture and Interior are designed to serve not big agribusiness or Washington influence-peddlers, but family farmers and the American people.

That is the kind of leadership embodied by Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack. Ken will bring to the Department of the Interior an abiding commitment to this land we love. His family has farmed and ranched the same land in Colorado for five generations. As a Senator from the great state of Colorado, he has been a champion for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities -– from building a clean energy economy to setting aside 250,000 acres of Rocky Mountain National Park as wilderness.

Before serving in the United States Senate, Ken was Attorney General in Colorado, where he worked on a number of land, water, and environmental issues. As a water lawyer for a decade, Ken was also chosen to lead Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources. In that role, he promoted responsible water management, balanced use of our energy resources, and built one of the most successful land conservation efforts in the nation.

Few are better equipped to meet the energy and natural resource challenges we face in the 21st century. Among the many responsibilities Ken will bear as our next Secretary of the Interior is helping ensure that we finally live up to the treaty obligations that are owed to the First Americans. We need more than just a government-to-government relationship; we need a nation-to-nation relationship. And Ken and I will work together to make sure that tribal nations have a voice in this administration.

To lead a Department of Agriculture that helps unlock the potential of a 21st century agricultural economy, I can think of no one better than Tom Vilsack. As Governor of one of our most abundant farm states, he led with vision, promoting biotech to strengthen our farmers and fostering an agricultural economy of the future that not only grows the food we eat, but the energy we use. Tom understands that the solution to our energy crisis will be found not in oil fields abroad but in our farm fields here at home. That is the kind of leader I want in my cabinet.

As our next Secretary of Agriculture, Tom will not only help ensure that rural America has a true partner in implementing the Farm Bill and pursuing agricultural research, but that Washington is looking out for everyone from the small family farms that are feeding our communities to the large farms that are feeding the world. When President Lincoln established the Department of Agriculture nearly a century and a half ago, he called it the “people’s department” for it was meant to serve the interests of those who lived off the land. And I know it will be the people’s department once more when Tom is at the helm.

With the appointments I announced earlier this week, and those I am announcing today, I am confident that we have the team we need to make the rural agenda America’s agenda, to create millions of new green jobs, to free our nation from its dependence on oil, and to help preserve this planet for our children. In the end, that is not only our responsibility as Americans, it is our obligation as stewards of God’s Earth.

The Obama administration’s cabinet nominations still unannounced are those for the departments of labor and transportation. In addition, the U.S. trade representative — a cabinet-level position — has not been announced.

UPDATED: The Obama transition team released the following biographical descriptions of Salazar and Vilsack after the presser:

Senator Ken Salazar, Nominee for Secretary of the Interior
Senator Ken Salazar was elected to the United States Senate in November 2004. A farmer for more than thirty years, Senator Salazar helped form the El Rancho Salazar partnership in 1981, and he and his wife have owned and operated small businesses in Colorado. From 1999 to 2004, Salazar served as Colorado’s Attorney General. He served as chairman of the Conference of Western Attorneys General. From 1987 to 1994, Salazar served in the Cabinet of Governor Roy Romer as chief legal counsel and executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Salazar also practiced water and environmental law in the private sector for eleven years. Salazar received a political science degree from Colorado College in 1977, and graduated with a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1981. Ken and his wife, Hope, have two daughters, Melinda and Andrea, and one granddaughter, Mireya.

Governor Tom Vilsack, Nominee for Secretary of Agriculture
Governor Tom Vilsack was elected Democratic governor of Iowa in 1998 and re-elected in 2002. As a governor from a farm state, Vilsack has been vocal in his support for the farm bill and for renewable sources of energy. In 2003, Vilsack passed the Grow Iowa Values Fund through the state legislature, a $503 million appropriation designed to boost the Iowa economy by offering grants to corporations and initiatives pledged to create higher-income jobs. Before serving as Governor, Vilsack was mayor of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and was elected to the Iowa State Senate in 1992. Vilsack was born in Pittsburgh in 1950, and graduated from Hamilton College and Albany Law School. Vilsack and his wife, Christie, have two children.