Washington, DC – Turning his back on inclusiveness in his Cabinet, President-Elect Trump has apparently chosen a 70-year-old white man from Georgia to serve as the next Secretary of Agriculture.
According to Politico, Former Georgia “Sonny” Perdue was the choice of “Protect The Harvest” Founder Mr. Forrest Lucas who is pro horse slaughter and against the regulation of puppy mills in Missouri. “Protect The Harvest” was “Presenting Sponsor of the Equus Film Festival in New York City.
“Trump to announce Sonny Perdue for Agriculture
President-elect Donald Trump plans to nominate former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to be the next Agriculture secretary, transition officials have informed POLITICO, making a pick that’s likely to please farm groups while angering those who have called for more diversity in his Cabinet.
The decision, which is expected to be announced on Thursday, ends weeks of speculation that Trump was looking to name a woman or Hispanic to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture and answers the pleas of the more than 70 members of Trump’s agriculture advisory council who were hoping to have one of their own put in charge of the lower-profile but far-reaching agency with a $150 billion budget.
“They want someone who will go in there and kick some ass,” said Gary Baise, a Washington, D.C., attorney who helped put together the advisory committee. “And Sonny is that guy.”
In making the announcement, the president-elect’s transition team plans to stress Perdue’s focus on rural communities and family farms, describing it as a “key part of the Trump movement,” a source says.
Perdue, who served two terms as governor of Georgia (2003-11), brings agriculture credentials: He grew up on a row farm in Central Georgia and currently owns several agriculture-related businesses. However, his friendlier views on trade and immigration do not seem entirely in line with those of the president-elect, and he’s no stranger to controversy in office.
Trump mulled a long list of candidates for agriculture secretary before coming back to one of the first names to generate buzz over the USDA position.
Perdue told reporters, when he visited Trump Tower wearing a tie with red tractors on Nov. 30, that the president-elect “lit up” to hear him talk about his experience with “agricultural commodities, trading domestically and internationally.” However, in the month that followed, no less than a half-dozen candidates visited Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence or the Trump transition team to audition for the job.
Many who showed up at Trump Tower and the Mar-a-Lago resort, and in Washington appear to have been invited as part of an effort to satisfy a last-minute push by some in Trump’s inner circle to add diversity to the Cabinet. In a statement last month, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials warned that a dearth of Hispanics in Trump’s Cabinet would mark a “historic and alarming step backwards for America,” noting a Hispanic has served in every Cabinet since Ronald Reagan picked Lauro Cavazos to head the Education Department.
But nearly every recent candidate for the position drew a hostile reaction from Trump’s agricultural advisory team. They publicly rejected North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp because she was a Democrat who, unlike members of the council, didn’t support Trump during his campaign. They pushed back on former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs for being too liberal, noting how she once championed school nutrition changes that first lady Michelle Obama would have liked, though she was supported by House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, another Texas Republican.
|Elsa Murano, a Cuban-born professor at Texas A&M University who once served as the food safety undersecretary at USDA, and Abel Maldonado, a former California lieutenant governor and strawberry farmer, also made visits but similarly have been passed over.|
Javier Palomarez, chairman of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said his organization repeatedly lobbied Trump’s team to pick Maldonado.
“He grew up as a migrant farm worker; he‘s picked the crops; he ran a family operation that depended on agriculture,” he said. “No one has come close to that kind of experience.”
The action behind the scenes was equally virulent. Sources describe how a group of Indiana power brokers with close ties to Pence, including Lucas Oil co-founder Forrest Lucas, Select Milk CEO Mike McCloskey and former congressional candidate Kip Tom, regularly voiced their disapproval about the different candidates.
Lucas was “apoplectic,” after hearing that former Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla, a one-time television executive and former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s agriculture panel, was in the running last weekend, one source said, and called Pence to repeat a message: The Agriculture secretary, while not the most prominent Cabinet position, isn’t a game. It’s not a dumping ground for political correctness — don’t stick an unqualified person in there. If you do, rural America will revolt, he said.
He ‘understands the importance of trade’
Lucas and his cohorts ultimately will get what they want in Perdue: A familiar Republican who’s poised to roll back regulations.
He’s a member of Trump’s agricultural advisory council, a group formed in August to help the real estate mogul get elected, who earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Georgia in 1971 before joining the Air Force, where he rose to the rank of captain. He’s owned a number of grain- and feed-processing, farm transportation and crop export companies.
Perdue, who would be the first southerner to lead USDA in more than two decades, told POLITICO in an interview before his selection that the next Agriculture secretary would be tasked with ensuring that USDA branches across the nation are friendly environments for all farmers and ranchers. He said he’d also aim to make the department work better with other agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Trade would be a top priority, too, Perdue added, and he was quick to defend Trump’s position on the issue.
The president-elect has been adamantly opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that most agricultural groups enthusiastically support. But Perdue argued that Trump understands that American farmers rely on trade and how their products often are “tariffed out” of certain markets. He wants to level the playing field, the prospective Agriculture secretary said.
Perdue has a long track record of promoting trade. As governor, he opened his state’s international trade office in Beijing and actively supported commerce between Georgia and China. He also lobbied to have Atlanta be the headquarters of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a proposed expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement that would have included South America and the Caribbean.
During his time in office, Perdue visited Cuba and called for more trade with the communist nation — a position that appears to stand in contrast to Trump’s calls to halt the thawing of relations with Cuba until more U.S. demands are met.
“It will be nice with someone like Gov. Perdue, who understands the importance of trade and fair trade policies” at the USDA, said Mike Giles, executive director of the Georgia Poultry Federation.
Perdue also has been less of a hard-liner on immigration than Trump. While he signed a law in 2006 to crack down on illegal immigrants in Georgia, he told The Associated Press shortly before leaving office in December 2010 that members of his party needed to tread carefully on the issue.
“The Republican Party needs to be very, very careful that it maintains the Golden Rule in its rhetoric regarding immigration policy,” Perdue told the news agency, adding that ensuring that “people of color and people who are not U.S.-born” feel welcome in the United States is going to be a challenge for Republicans as the debate over the issue heats up.
“[Immigration] is a very emotive, emotion-filled topic that I think sometimes gets us out there where our hearts really aren’t,” Perdue said.
“We can love all people while loving the law and expecting the law to be fulfilled, and that’s a tricky balance,” he said later in the interview.
‘Temperamental and fractious’ but ‘not a bad pick’
Perdue comes with experience in both government and business. His financial disclosure statements from his last run for governor in 2006 show, at the time, he was worth about $6 million and his businesses were worth about $2.8 million.
The 70-year-old Georgian’s most recent venture, Perdue Partners, facilitates the export of U.S. goods and services and was launched in 2011 with three people he appointed to state positions while serving as governor. That includes his cousin, Republican Sen. David Perdue, who was on the board of the Georgia Ports Authority and has been a vocal supporter of Trump.
Sonny Perdue started his career in politics in 1990 with a successful run for the state Senate as a Democrat, where he served until he launched his campaign for governor in 2001. He switched parties and beat the Democratic incumbent, Roy Barnes, in a long-shot run for state chief executive by appealing to rural white voters, a victory many have described as similar to Trump’s.
While pursuing economic development through trade, Perdue used his position as governor to raise the profile of the Port of Savannah. He focused on cutting government spending and improving education. He was generally liked by agricultural groups, but his tenure was not without conflict.
Early in his administration, he drew fire from civil right groups for moving forward with a referendum on whether to base a new state flag on the first Confederate flag. Then, in 2007, he opposed an effort by African-American state legislators to pass a resolution to issue a public apology for Georgia’s role in the slave trade.
Perdue confronted several real-estate related controversies, too, including one surrounding a tax package passed by the state’s Republican Legislature that some charged was designed to help the governor avoid $100,000 in state capital gains taxes from his sale of more than 300 acres of land in Georgia in 2004. He also drew fire for using the money from that sale to purchase 20 acres of land in Florida from a major state donor whom he appointed to the state Board of Economic Development about a year earlier.
Neill Herring, a veteran environmental lobbyist in Georgia, described Perdue as a “temperamental and fractious” person who “was not at all popular by the time that he left” the governorship. A poll by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research in 2010 found that only 45 percent of voters approved of his performance, The Augusta Chronicle reported.
“He’s presented as a popular governor now, but I was there; everyone was glad that he was gone,” Herring said.
By all accounts, Perdue is not an especially progressive choice for Agriculture secretary, but his critics say he brings some positive attributes to the job.
“Among the possibilities, just objectively, he’s not a bad pick,” Herring said. “He’s not a stranger to the issues. He’s not a stranger to the field. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a southern Agriculture secretary. … But I’m not expecting a dramatically different USDA.”
And so it goes.