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6 things to know about... Agriculture nominee Sonny Perdue

By Ben Remaly

President Donald Trump nominated former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to serve as Secretary of Agriculture last Thursday. Major farm groups applauded the choice of Perdue to lead the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The choice to fill the last vacancy in Trump’s cabinet has received scrutiny from critics who say the President’s cabinet lacks diversity. This could be the first cabinet since 1988 to not include a Latino member.

Perdue was one of the first to interview for the position, but the process dragged on. If confirmed, Perdue would oversee a $155 billion budget and nearly 100,000 employees that control farm policy, food safety, food stamps, nutrition programs and the Forest Service.

1.       Perdue began his political career as a Democrat in the Georgia state legislature where he helped devise Georgia’s agriculture policy.  Perdue then switched parties and served two terms (2003-2011) as Georgia’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction. He led the state through two recessions and enacted conservative policy on illegal immigration and voter ID laws.

2.       Perdue left his imprint on the south’s contentious relationship with its Confederate past. Perdue ran for governor on a platform that included a push for a controversial referendum to bring back the Confederate Battle Cross that had been removed by legislation passed in 2001. Perdue upset “flaggers” when the referendum did not include the Confederate battle cross, but the final approved flag strongly resembles the national flag of the Confederacy. In response to an attempt by African-American state legislators to implement a resolution to publically apologize for the role Georgia played in the slave trade Perdue said, “Repentance comes from the heart. I’m not sure about public apologies on behalf of other people as far as the motivation for them.” Perdue also signed legislation designating April permanently as Confederate History and Heritage month in Georgia law.

3.       Perdue comes from an agricultural background. He grew up on a farm, earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Georgia, and ran a grain and fertilizer business. Trump emphasized his experience in a statement, “from growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, he has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face, and he is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land.”

4.       In 2007, while severe droughts parched southern states like Georgia, Perdue led a prayer service for rain with hundreds outside the state capitol in Atlanta. Perdue had previously put in place water restrictions among other steps while and had asked President George W. Bush for assistance. 

5.       Like President Trump, Perdue comes in with a business mindset. The former governor of the Peach State who often referred to himself as Georgia’s CEO, emphasized his experience in the agriculture business as well as in domestic and international trade while interviewing with Trump. Perdue did not implement big programs but rather focused on cutting government spending and he angered fellow Republicans by vetoing tax cuts. He also opened an international trade office in Beijing.

Perdue, like Trump, also did not put his assets in a blind trust when assuming office. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that in 2005, a bill was passed with a backdated provision which allowed Perdue to defer $100,000 in capital gains taxes on purchased land.  Perdue and the state officials say the tax break was not designed to help Perdue. After his terms as governor, Perdue started Perdue Partners LLC, a global trading company with a focus on food and agriculture.

6.       Washington Politics: In the 2016 presidential cycle, Perdue first endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and then former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush before campaigning with Trump across Georgia. Perdue also was a member of Trump’s agriculture advisory board.

The appointee to lead the USDA has family in town as well. U.S. Sen. David Perdue of (R-GA) is Sonny’s first cousin. David Perdue is on the Senate Committee on Agriculture that will hold his cousin’s confirmation hearing. Sonny and David have no relation or affiliation with the food company Perdue or its poultry. 

Photo via flickr / Alan Painter