While a student at Hamilton College in the '70s, Tom Vilsack lost his bid for Hamilton College class president. He reportedly decided then that he would never run for any office again. Now as a two-term governor of Iowa, Vilsack is on the short list of possible running mates for John Kerry.
When Thomas J. Schwarz '66, a trustee of Hamilton College and the current president of SUNY Purchase, presented Vilsack for an honorary degree in 2001, Schwarz told Vilsack, "It would seem that you later changed your mind [about running for office], and evidently most of the voters of Iowa are glad that you did."
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"Tom Vilsack was one of the first people I met when I got to Hamilton," said Steve Wulf '72, executive editor of ESPN The Magazine. "We used to talk sports a lot. I actually had the feeling when we first met that someday I would be voting for him. It's always impressed me that he's a governor, but he hasn't changed all that much. Even then, he struck me as a trustworthy guy, who was smart and focused and well-grounded."
At Hamilton, Vilsack met Christie Bell from Mount Pleasant, Iowa, who was attending Kirkland, the coordinate college for women on College Hill. After graduating, Bell and Vilsack were married. Following Vilsack's years at Albany Law School, they settled in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where Vilsack established his law practice.
He entered the political arena when the mayor's office became vacant and quickly gained a reputation for getting things done. His next stop was the Iowa State Senate, where he was a hard-working Democratic lawmaker who helped shape key legislation. By 1998, Vilsack decided to run for governor, a position the Republicans had held firmly for 30 years. After surviving a tough primary battle, Vilsack entered the general election seemingly without a prayer of winning. But by campaigning vigorously, and with his family's support, he achieved an astonishing come-from-behind victory.
J.K. Hage III '72, an attorney with Hage & Hage LLC, said, "Tom would be a superb choice both as a vice-presidential candidate and as vice president. As a candidate, he has proven in Iowa that he is an indomitable campaigner."
Hage, who also attended Albany Law School with Vilsack, pointed out that in his years as governor, Vilsack has translated into action campaign commitments to address educational, health care and environmental issues, while adhering to fiscal responsibility. "He has proven in Iowa that his focus is on social justice and fiscal conservatism -- a precious combination of values America needs, and now lacks, at the seat of power," Hage said.