Christie Vilsack spent 8 years as First Lady of Iowa while her husband Tom, now Secretary of Agriculture, was Governor. A native of Iowa, she and Tom moved back to the state after he finished law school at the request of her father (Tom was a foundling in Pittsburgh before they met at Hamilton College). She has moved to Ames - site of Iowa State - to run in the newly drawn 4th Congressional District against the obnoxious Steve King. The district is winnable - only about half of it is in King's current district.
I have written about Christie's candidacy before in this brief piece about her outstanding fundraising in the 3rd quarter. And I will continue to write about the campaign, because Tom and Christie are personal friends. Consider that my disclosure.
One concern Christie wants to address in her campaign is how to keep Iowa's young people in Iowa. What can be done to have jobs for them? She remembers her father's request that she and Tom return to the state.
After travelling around the district and listening to lots of people, Christie's approach is to place a greater emphasis on apprenticeships.
Please keep reading as I explore what she has offered.
Not all productive jobs require a four year college education. A successful lifestyle can be maintained by employment in a skilled trade. For many trades, the best possible training is an apprenticeship program. It is true that some community colleges offer training in skilled trades, but as Christie notes in Apprenticeships: One Avenue to New Iowa Jobs (as it appears on her campaign website),
Apprenticeships provide a lifetime of value. One study found that an individual who goes through an apprenticeship earns $269,000 more during their lifetime than someone who simply gets an associate degree.
Apprenticeships can be applied more broadly than the traditional skilled trades such as carpentry, pipefitting, maintenance, machining, or welding, which often require some level of certification that is achieved after completing an apprenticeship. As Christie notes,
Apprenticeships don’t have to be limited to skilled trades like carpentry and machine repair. They can help prepare workers in other fields like dental assistants, daycare providers and home healthcare workers.
Why should this be an issue for someone running for a federal office, Member of Congress?
Despite the proven success of apprenticeships in preparing Americans for good jobs, the federal government has largely ignored them. Based on the latest figures available, Washington invests only $29 million in apprenticeship programs compared to a total of $3.9 BILLION on all other workforce development programs.
I will return to Christie Vilsack's ideas about apprenticeships in a moment. First a few words about her.
I met Tom before I met Christie. Tom was exploring running for President in the 2008 cycle. He had a strong interest in education, in part because Christie had been a teacher. His internet guy, Kevin Thurman, arranged conference calls with some well-known educational bloggers, including me (Kevin knew my work here because he was on the site in pre-Scoop days, and IIRC had a 3-digit UID). That led to some followup exchanges of blog entries between me and Tom, starting with my posting this piece on 10/8/05 and Tom responding four days later with this piece That began the career of Tom Vilsack, Daily Kos blogger, whose posts you can read here
Tom was going to be in Arlington VA where I live for a fundraiser for a friend. He and I arranged to meet afterward. We talked for well over an hour, closer to two, mainly about education. He later told me by email when he discussed our conversation Christie simply told her "listen to him." Obviously that favorably inclined me towards her before I ever met her!
I first met her briefly when I was Tom's guest when he addressed the National Press Club. Over the years since I have stayed in touch with Tom regularly via email on a variety of topics. My wife and I have had dinner with both of them, as we will again shortly. As soon as Christie began exploring running against Steve King, I told them both I would help in any way I can. While I live in Virginia, I consider this race to be of national importance. So do the Dems in Congress - Christie has a fundraiser this coming Wednesday for which the headliner is Steny Hoyer.
Returning to Christie's piece on apprenticeships. Allow me to quote the beginning:
Apprenticeships: One Avenue to New Iowa Jobs
As I traveled the 39 counties that make up the new Fourth Congressional District, I heard the same things over and over wherever I went:
“I want to work, but I can’t find a decent job.”
“I have a job now but I’m worried about the future.”
“I’m afraid my son or daughter will have to leave our area to find a job.”
These are the things our public officials must focus on. Instead, Congress spent the last months playing a game of “chicken” with the federal debt limit. And this has resulted in a loss of faith in the creditworthiness of our nation.
These political games have got to stop.
Washington is broken and we need to fix it. We need people in Congress who are focused like a laser on the needs of America’s families.
The question that should guide Iowa lawmakers is what kind of future will we provide for the next generation? How can we make sure that our small cities and rural communities will survive in the years to come?
The answer is that businesses will locate and grow where they find workers with the skills they need to make a profit. We need to make sure that more Iowans are prepared for new, good-paying jobs.
One proven way to do this is to expand apprenticeship programs, where tomorrow’s workers can get a head start by learning on the job.
Note how she sets the context in terms of what the people are saying and experiencing.
Remember that almost 1 in 5 Americans still live in rural areas.
Remember that people have roots in their home towns, and might want to stay, but need jobs in order to do so.
Having trained and skilled employees is often a draw for companies. The cost of living is lower in rural areas, which means the costs of operating a business can also be lower, providing one can find the appropriate workers.
Christie notes there are 47 different federal jobs programs across dozens of agencies, most of which have no statistics telling how well they operate. Apprenticeships have a proven track record, which is why she would like to see more emphasis on them. She describe doing that as "Iowa sense."
Her approach is a partnership between the Federal government and community colleges in a fashion that would not cost additional money, but instead would re-direct some of the nearly $4 billion in existing federal training funds to support an expanded apprentice program. She would put the community colleges in charge, and encourage them to work closely with local businesses and labor unions.
Note those last two words: labor unions. From my contacts in DC I know that unions are already strongly committed to helping Christie Vilsack win this seat.
I can here your minds working already - Republicans will do anything they can to prevent labor unions from getting a benefit. Perhaps. But remember the Republican solution to everything is tax cuts. Then read these words of Christie Vilsack:
To ensure that these apprenticeships result in real jobs, I propose a tax credit for businesses that sponsor apprenticeship programs and hire their graduates. One way to do this would be to provide employers an income tax credit for two years for each apprentice they hire. That’s a powerful incentive to put people to work.
Christie Vilsack is proposing a national program, but makes clear why it is relevant to Iowa, and particularly this part of Iowa:
An expanded national apprenticeship program would be particularly helpful to Iowa’s ag-based economy:
Elevators need well-trained maintenance workers. Implement dealers need well-trained repair technicians. Utility companies need well-trained employees to repair windmills located on farms. Manufacturers need well-trained machinists and welders to build windmills or farm machinery.
There is a lot more in this piece, and my post about is already long enough.
I strongly support Christie Vilsack for Congress. I hope I can encourage people here to support her as well. The election may still be a year away, but there is much that can be done now. I hope you will visit the campaign website and see how you can help support. I assure you that support of any kind will be welcome, financial or otherwise.
Finally, let me conclude as Christie concludes her piece:
This is my vision for the future of rural Iowa. This is how we can ensure that our small cities and rural communities remain vibrant, and that families can continue to choose the special lifestyle they afford.
We’ve had enough of the fighting and dysfunction in Washington. It’s time to focus on what really matters to our families and our future. And that’s what my campaign for Congress is all about.
Please, support my friend Christie Vilsack for Congress from the 4th District of Iowa.