January 9. 2017. One day before his inauguration, Donald Trump names former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue to be his Secretary of Agriculture. The last cabinet member to be selected and its least important cabinet member, the selection process was contentious. Perdue is noted for his economic development of Georgia especially improving the port of Savannah, largest single-terminal container facility in North America, and Brunswick, a center for automobile imports.
Perdue has played a significant role in increasing chicken production in Georgia a role which may put him at odds with the President who appointed him. Georgia’s booming chicken industry depends on Hispanic agricultural labor–putting him at odds with his Administration’s immigration.
A strong supporter of trade with Cuba, Perdue has visited the island where he hopes Cuba will purchase large quantities of Georgia chicken.
When you return to this posting, expect more Sonny. What follows is my profile of Sonny published early in December.
Sonny Perdue first came to my consciousness when the press reported he wore a tie with tractors on it when President-Elect Trump interviewed him at Trump Tower
As with another former governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue has a silly first name and an odd way of dealing with it. Born in 1946 son of a farmer, Sonny’s parents named him George Ervin Perdue III. When he became governor he formally changed the name with which he signed documents to his childhood nickname.
There is some special quality former governors of Georgia have that border on the spiritual. Either they are condemned to a lifetime of obscurity or they become President. Take Jimmy Carter, for example who changed his first name formally so he could sign Presidential Proclamations using his nickname. What did Jimmy do as Governor of Georgia that suited him for the Oval Office? Yes, he unveiled a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a sign that Georgia recognized its greatest Twentieth Century leader. What else did he do?
My mother explained it. “People tell me he is worth watching.” Similarly (although there is no chance of Sonny becoming President), he has a watchable quality. Currently, Perdue is watchable.
In 2008 The New York Times regarded Perdue as sufficiently watchable to include him on a list for potential running mates for Vice President. How does one get to become a member of the cabinet? It helps to be a name on the right list.
This is how the Times eased Perdue into a slow rise from obscurity. “Republican governors said that Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Sanford were in the top-tier of potential running mates, but that Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida and Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia were also contenders.” Note: the online version of the Times hotlink Purdue’s name and gave him the opportunity for a quote.
“Mr. Perdue said he had not asked anyone to include his name on a list of potential running mates. But he said, ‘People include my name because we’re the capital of the South, a fast-growing region, and we’ve had wonderful success with a conservative fiscal policy.’”
The paragraph above indicates that when the spotlight was upon him (albeit briefly), he performed well. How well did he perform as Georgia’s governor? He was elected with two campaign pledges 1. Administer the state more efficiently. 2. Improve education; specifically, raise SAT scores.
“Two primary objectives in Perdue’s administration was on reforming state government and on improving education. Perdue advocated reforms designed to cut waste in government, most notably the sale of surplus vehicles and real estate. Prior to Perdue’s becoming governor, no state agency had even compiled an inventory of what assets the state-owned, much less managed them.
“In education, Perdue promoted the return of most decision-making to the local level. After Perdue took office, Georgia moved out of last place in SAT scores in 2003 and 2004. Although it returned to last place in 2005, Georgia rose to 49th place in 2006 in the combined math and reading mean score, including the writing portion (new that year). The high school class of 2006 recorded the sharpest drop in SAT scores in 31 years.[“
Perdue’s Helpful Family Tie
Last night (December 4), breathless, my Ear on the Ground in Georgia (EOGG) left a voice message at 9. “You know, Perdue’s cousin sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee.”
Perdue’s cousin is Senator David Perdue Republican of Georgia. On Friday, Senator David Perdue (a staunch Trump supporter) met with the President-elect at Trump Tower. They discussed farm legislation. The current farm bill expires in two years. The Administration will have a difficult time renewing the legislation. What is most significant about farm legislation these days is that it is not significant. Until the 1970s, farm legislation determined how much a farmer could or could not plant. No more.
Current legislation deals with technical issues of little concern to consumers. The Farm Bureau and other farm groups are working overtime to prepare because (to repeat) it might not pass. Job One for Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture is to make sure it passes.
No other cabinet agency has the intimate relationship required between the Senate and House Agriculture Committees in whose hearing rooms I have spent ten years of my life. In these Committee rooms it is helpful to have cousins (kissing and otherwise) who are members of the Committee. Sonny Perdue’s selection could very well be determined by blood as well as qualification.
Copyright © 2017 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.