| The Republicans have nothing on Tom Vilsack when it comes to filibustering. I'm currently at an address he's giving to the Community Food Security Coalition conference, and Vilsack just spoke. Then he offered to take questions. I stood up and got in line. So did many other people around the room - many people who I have great respect for. I wanted to hear their questions and I wanted to hear Vilsack's answers.
I can't perfectly recall the first two questions, but one was whether the Obama administration and Vilsack's USDA stood behind our request for mandatory funding for Farm to School. Vilsack didn't answer. He talked. He talked quite a bit actually. But the basic answer was either "No," "Maybe," or "Not yet." It certainly wasn't yes and he didn't want to say it. Instead he talked about the importance of providing healthy school lunches to children and making sure children who receive free and reduced cost lunch don't feel stigmatized by it.
Then came the next question, asked by blogger Ashley Colpaart of the US Food Policy blog. She said she could see that the USDA was doing a lot to help small and mid-sized farmers, but much of their barriers to success come from large farms. She asked what he was doing to prevent large farms from keeping small and mid-sized farms from succeeding by harming the environment or preventing fair competition.
That's when the filibuster started. Vilsack did just about everything except for answer the question. He talked and talked and talked. Talked about Afghanistan. About feeding the world. About the trade balance. Honestly, I don't know what all he talked about. I tuned out after it became apparent that a real answer to the question wasn't coming.
Vilsack didn't like that question and he obviously didn't want any more questions like it. The easiest way to prevent more questions? Make your answers really, really long. After he finally wrapped up, he was given a notecard saying "Time for
two one more questions."
That's when John Kinsman, a legendary dairy farmer from Wisconsin, stood up to ask about dairy. Vilsack gave him a much less longwinded answer, now that he knew he was soon off the hook.
I think the questions were supposed to be finished, but Jeffrey Smith piped up with a question about GMOs. Vilsack answered honestly, that he was for GMOs and he thinks they are needed to feed the world. And... he got booed and hissed. Not by everybody, but by some. It was audible. He heard it. He said he was willing to read any studies and he was willing to meet with anybody.
Then he thanked us and quickly got the hell out of the room. On his way out, I gave him a copy of my book.