Obama criticizes Bush as he unveils Agriculture and Interior picks

AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM/Newscom

In announcing his choices to run the Agriculture and Interior Departments, President-elect Barack Obama was sharply critical of the Bush administration’s land management policies.

Obama unveiled his choice of former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack to head the Agriculture Department and Colorado Senator Ken Salazar to run the Interior Department on the same day Time Magazine unsurprisingly named the president-elect as its person of the year.

Both nominees have reputations as political centrists.

Cabinet building before Christmas

The announcements came at a press conference in Chicago’s Drake Hotel.  It was Obama’s third meeting with the media in as many days, as the president-elect moves to complete his cabinet before an expected departure this weekend for a family Christmas vacation in Hawaii.

In response to a reporter’s question about Salazar’s role, Obama said the country “had an Interior Department that was deeply troubled” adding it was “too often seen as an appendage of commercial interests.”  The Interior Department oversees oil and gas drilling on public lands and manages the nation’s parks and wildlife refuges.

“I want an Interior Department that very frankly cleans up its act,” Obama continued.  In the recent past there was “not enough emphasis on what’s good for the American people,” he charged.

A frustrating silence

A reporter asked the president-elect about a request by the US Attorney’s office in Chicago to postpone release of an internal investigation of contacts between the Obama transition team and Illinois Governor Rod Blagovejich.  and how that squared with his promise of governmental transparency.  The governor has been charged with trying to profit from his ability to fill the US Senate seat Obama held.

“It s a little bit frustrating,” Obama said. “There has been a lot of speculation in the press that I would love to correct immediately.”  He added that, it is “not going to be that long” before details are released.

Keeping rivals close

Trend spotters will note that Vilsack is the fourth former rival for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination to be named by Obama.  The others are Vice President-elect Joe Biden, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, and Commerce Secretary-designate Bill Richardson.

Vilsack was first elected Iowa’s governor in 1998 and re-elected in 2002.  In the 2008 presidential race, he supported Hillary Clinton after dropping out of contention himself due to problems raising money.   The sprawling Agriculture Department that he will lead oversees farm subsidies, food safety, hunger programs, national forests, and land conservation.

Obama said that as Iowa’s governor Vilsack “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.”

In brief remarks, Vilsack said his plans included “bringing hope to rural America.”

Family farming for generations

Before becoming the Democratic Senator from Colorado in 2004, Ken Salazar was his state’s Attorney General and led the state’s Department of Natural Resources.  Obama noted that Salazar’s family has farmed and ranched the same land in Colorado for five generations.

Wearing a tan cowboy hat and a string tie, Salazar said he would be “a strong voice for the West and for the nation” as the country took what he called “the moon shot on energy independence.”

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