If the 31st Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture looks a lot like the 81st Governor of Georgia there’s good reason – they are one in the same, George Ervin “Sonny” Perdue, born in 1946 on a family farm in Bonaire, GA.
Perdue is one of the few ag secretaries in modern times to actually be a farmer himself, surprisingly. You’d think it would be a job requirement, but most modern secretaries have had business backgrounds with little connection to agriculture – it’s kind of like making someone captain of a ship though they’ve never been on a boat before.
Perdue made few enemies in agriculture during his two terms as governor (2003-2011) but he made many friends, despite holding office in Georgia’s worst economic period since the Great Depression. No one was surprised that he sailed through confirmation hearings even in these politically terse times. Reportedly, the toughest question Perdue faced on Capitol Hill was whether he wanted to go fishing with a senator.
According to those who know him well, the answer would probably be “no”.
“He’d rather turkey hunt than fish,” said Delbert Bland of Bland Farms in Glennville, GA. Bland has known Perdue since he was first campaigning for governor. “He’s a wonderful guy. What I like about Sonny is he’s the same guy that came to my birthday party 10 years ago, it doesn’t matter if he’s in Atlanta or Washington, DC, he’s a straight shooter. I’ve known him for years, we’ve talked on the phone several occasions about nothing to do with politics. I called him a couple of weeks ago before the confirmation to ask him some advice on something and he picked up the phone and was just like he’s always been. I consider him a friend.”
Southeast Hopeful of A Little Home-Cooking
SPW talked with Bland and another Perdue confidante, Bill Brim, a former Georgia Farmer of the Year and a member of the United Fresh Board of Directors as co-owner of Lewis Taylor Farms in Tifton, GA, one of the largest privately owned vegetable and greenhouse operations in the Southeast. Brim has worked hand-in-glove with Perdue over the years and even accompanied the then-governor on a fact-finding mission to Cuba.
“We hope he’s opening doors for us [in the Southeast] and it’s quite an honor to have a Georgian in that position, it’s been years since we had a Southern secretary of agriculture and I’m excited about it,” Brim said. “He did a great job for us as governor. He had tough relationships with everybody because budgets were so bad. But he did a great job managing it all and managed to pull off economic development even so. He didn’t forget the ag community that he was so fond of. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to expand and do things and he’ll help us to do things. He knows how important it is for our ag community to stick together. I’m excited about him being there and I hope we’ll have a close relationship with him.”
Perdue was the first Republican governor elected in Georgia since the Reconstruction Era ended in 1877. A conservative with a strong ag and political background, he was an appealing choice for Trump.
Trump Promises ‘Big Results’ From Perdue
“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,” the President said when nominating Perdue. “He is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land.”
Perdue, in a statement released by Trump’s transition team after the nomination, said he began as “a simple Georgia farm boy,” and pledged to “champion the concerns of American agriculture and work tirelessly to solve the issues facing our farm families.”
Brim and Bland believe that’s true.
“He certainly expresses his point of view but he listens to others. As governor he made a lot of time to meet with us in the ag community,” Brim said. “He’ll represent everybody extremely well. He’s just that kind of person. He may show the Southeast a little favoritism but he should. He’s a great guy and a very smart individual as well. He knows politics and he knows how to use it for the best of everybody.
“Sometimes agriculture is underrepresented by the people in Washington and he’ll be one to step up to the plate, he doesn’t mind speaking out when he’s got something to say. Most of your ag commissioners are true politicians. But Sonny’s a farmer, he knows what it’s like to make a living and, like us out here every week fighting to make it, knows what it’s like to have to write that check every Friday to make a payroll.”
Bland says Perdue’s farm experience is invaluable. “It’s not like talking to some people from Washington who have to go to a book to find out what they’re talking about; this guy already knows. I think we will have a voice there — he will do as much for rural Georgia and agriculture as one man can do. Now as far as how that affects the rest of Washington and what direction that goes in, your guess is as good as mine. But Sonny will definitely do his part. He’s the real deal, no doubt about it. He’s as good a guy as you could find to handle that position.”
‘I Ain’t Going to Jail for Nobody’
Though they were interviewed at different times, Bland and Brim both used many of the same adjectives to describe Perdue, words like “genuine” and “straight-laced”. Both were optimistic about the impact the secretary can have on Southeastern agriculture. Both are confident America has the right man for the job.
“He’s always done everything he can to help and he will not do anything that’s not 100 percent straight down the line,” Bland said. “He’s a straight-up guy, he’ll do what he can and he won’t do something he’s not supposed to.”
Brim can testify to that. He accompanied Perdue on a three-day fact-finding mission to Cuba “looking for avenues to move our products.” At the time, U.S. companies were prohibited from doing business with Cuba on credit. As it turned out, “the Cubans didn’t have any money and if you couldn’t get money in advance you couldn’t sell to them. But it was an exciting time for us to go down. At the end of the trip, Sonny was such a straight-laced governor he wouldn’t even let us smuggle some Cuban cigars back in the United States. We smoked a few while we were down there, but he drew the line and said, ‘I ain’t going to jail for nobody.’”