Inside D.C.

Everybody loves Sonny

If you’re nominated by the President of the United States to be a member of his/her cabinet, you must first survive the Senate confirmation process, trekking down a road fraught with political and public relations landmines.  For most, it’s about as unpleasant a process as you can imagine.  Not only your professional life is put under a microscope by the opposition party, but your private life and that of your family is fair game.  It’s no wonder some candidates simply refuse to be a political punching bag, declining the nomination or half-way through the process, throwing in the towel.

Unless, of course, you’re George Ervin “Sonny” Perdue III, President Trump’s better-late-than-never nominee to be secretary of agriculture.

Gov. Perdue has a resume’ straight out of Central Casting when it comes to qualifications for ag secretary.  He’s the son of a dairy farmer, a veterinarian, an Air Force veteran, an agribusinessman, a former state legislator and was twice-elected governor of Georgia – the first GOP governor since Reconstruction – not to mention he’s first cousin to Georgia’s junior Senator David Perdue (R).

As painful as the confirmation process can be, Gov. Perdue’s confirmation hearing this week before the Senate Agriculture Committee can only be described as a two-and-a-half-hour bipartisan love fest.  Perdue didn’t run the Senate hearing gauntlet alone or get by on his engaging smile and southern charm.  Behind him sat Mary, his wife of 45 years, his four children, his 14 grandchildren and more than two dozen former employees and colleagues of his years as Georgia’s 81st governor.

However, his resume aside and his family notwithstanding, Perdue handled himself with class and brains, answering questions directly, diplomatically stepping outside the Trump policy circle when necessary, charming both Republican and Democrat members of the committee so completely he earned a handful of bipartisan invitations to meet constituent farmers back home, attend university football games or go hunting.  He accepted every one.

The man who would be ag secretary was introduced by retired Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R, GA), former chair of the Senate ag committee, and veteran House Agriculture Committee member Rep. David Scott (D, GA), a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).  In the audience to show support, sat Rep. Sanford Bishop (D, GA), a 13-term member of the House and Scott’s CBC colleague.  All praised Perdue’s smarts, his fairness, instincts and his compassion.

“Agriculture is in my heart, and I look forward to fighting for the producers of America,” Perdue said, noting his hearing was held “during the same week we celebrate National Agriculture Week.”  He committed to being a “tenacious” champion for agriculture.

“I will work tirelessly to advance four primary goals,” said Perdue in sworn testimony.  “I will maximize the ability of the men and women of America’s agriculture and agribusiness sectors to create jobs…for the American taxpayers – our customers – I will prioritize customer service every day…our tax payers are also consumers, and they expect a safe and secure food supply… (and) we will safeguard and maintain our responsibility as good stewards (of the land) …supporting conservation efforts and managing natural resources as we are entrusted.”

Said ag committee ranking member Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D, MI), “An agriculture secretary will need to look past regional divides or partisan pressures to support all farmers, all families and all rural communities.  And right now we need an advocate to stand up for them in this administration.  We have a nominee who understands agriculture, grew up on a dairy farm and after multiple discussions with him, I feel he can do a good job of running the department.”

Committee Chair Pat Roberts (R, KS) best summed up the challenge facing Perdue:  “Now, more than ever, agriculture needs a voice – and advocate – at the highest levels of government.  Gov. Perdue has been nominated to serve in exactly that role.”

Roberts will schedule a full committee business meeting as soon as possible to take the final vote on Perdue’s nomination.  “We have told leadership we would like to move him as soon as possible and leadership has agreed,” he said.  Easily the most popular and certainly the least controversial of all Trump’s cabinet nominees, the vote is a lock.

The big challenge is timing, getting Perdue into the USDA secretary’s office as soon as possible.  It took way too long to get Perdue’s confirmation hearing scheduled, and when asked if Perdue could get full committee and full Senate approval before Congress heads out of town for its two-week Easter recess April 10, Roberts said, “Hope springs eternal.”

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