George Ervin "Sonny" Perdue III (born December 20, 1946) is an American politician who is the 31st United States Secretary of Agriculture, in office since 2017. Perdue previously served as the 81st Governor of Georgia from 2003 to 2011. Upon his inauguration as Governor on January 13, 2003, he became the first Republican Governor of Georgia since Reconstruction.
Perdue currently serves on the Governors' Council of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and is Secretary of Agriculture in the Cabinet of Donald Trump. Perdue is only the second Secretary of Agriculture from the Deep South. The first was Mike Espy of Mississippi, who served under President Bill Clinton from January 1993 to December 1994.
On January 18, 2017, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Perdue to be Secretary of Agriculture. His nomination was transmitted to the Senate on March 9, 2017. His nomination was approved by the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on March 30, by a 19-1 voice vote and by the entire Senate in a vote of 87-11 on April 24.
Early life and education
Perdue was born in Perry, Georgia, the son of Ophie Viola (Holt), a teacher, and George Ervin Perdue Jr., a farmer. He grew up and still lives in Bonaire, an unincorporated area between Perry and Warner Robins. Perdue has been known as Sonny since childhood and prefers to be called by that name; he was sworn in and signs official documents as "Sonny Perdue". Perdue is the first cousin of U.S. Senator David Perdue.
Perdue played quarterback at Warner Robins High School and was a walk-on at the University of Georgia, where he was also a member of the Beta-Lambda chapter of Kappa Sigma Fraternity.
In 1971, Perdue earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine and worked as a veterinarian before becoming a small business owner, eventually starting three small businesses.
Perdue is not related to the family that owns and operates Perdue Farms (commonly associated with "Perdue Chicken").
Perdue served in the U.S. Air Force, rising to the rank of captain before his discharge.
After serving as a member of the Houston County Planning & Zoning Commission in the 1980s, Perdue ran for a seat in the Georgia General Assembly. He defeated Republican candidate Ned Sanders in 1990 and succeeded Democratic incumbent Ed Barker as the senator representing the 18th district.
Perdue was elected as a Democrat in 1991, 1994, and 1996. He served as his party's leader in the Senate from 1994 to 1997 and as president pro tempore.
His committee assignments included Ethics, Finance & Public Utilities, Health & Human Services, Reapportionment and Economic Development, Tourism & Cultural Affairs.
He switched party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 1998 and was re-elected to the Senate as a Republican. He also won re-election in 2000.
Governor of Georgia
In December 2001, Perdue resigned as state senator and devoted himself entirely to running for the office of Governor of Georgia. He won the 2002 Georgia gubernatorial election, defeating Democratic incumbent Roy Barnes 51% to 46%, with Libertarian candidate Garrett Michael Hayes taking 2% of the vote. He became the first Republican governor of Georgia in over 130 years since Benjamin F. Conley.
In 2006, Perdue was re-elected to a second term in the 2006 Georgia gubernatorial election, winning nearly 58% of the vote. His Democratic opponent was Lieutenant Governor Mark Taylor. Libertarian Garrett Michael Hayes was also on the ballot.
- Economic issues
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.
In January 2003, Perdue signed an executive order prohibiting himself and all other state employees from receiving any gift worth more than $25. During his governorship, Perdue collected at least $25,000 in gifts, including sporting event tickets and airplane flights.
Late in the evening of March 29, 2005, the penultimate day of the legislative session, Representative Larry O'Neal, who also worked part-time as Perdue’s personal lawyer, introduced legislation making capital gains tax owed on Georgia land sales deferrable if the income goes to purchase out-of-state land, also, unusually, making the tax break retroactive. Perdue signed the legislation into law on April 12, 2005, three days before tax day. Perdue then used the new law on his 2004 tax return to defer $100,000 in taxable gains from the sale of land.
In 2007, Perdue convinced a skeptical legislature to approve a $19 million fishing tourism program he called Go Fish Georgia. Perdue then decided that the Go Fish Education Center would be built down the road from his home.
- Education reform
In education, Perdue promoted the return of most decision-making to the local level. After Perdue took office, in 2003 and 2004, Georgia moved up from last place in the country in SAT scores. 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 added to the test that year. In 2007, Georgia moved up to 46th place. In 2008, Georgia moved up again, to 45th place. Perdue also created additional opportunities for charter schools and private schools.
- Georgia state flag
After Democratic Governor Roy Barnes replaced the 1956 state flag, which was adopted by Georgia to protest integration, because it featured a battle flag emblem of the Confederacy, Perdue promised in his 2002 election campaign that he would let the state's citizens vote to determine the state flag of Georgia. The choices given to Georgian voters were a modified version of the First National Flag of the Confederate States of America with the Georgia State Seal prominently displayed inside a circle of 13 stars, or the version of the flag created in 2001 by the Roy Barnes administration. The design of the 2001 Georgian flag was widely unpopular, being derisively named the "Barnes flag", and the North American Vexillological Association deemed it the ugliest U.S. state flag. Perdue disappointed some Georgians by not including the 1956 flag as a choice on the ballot despite his campaign promises to do so. However, Perdue was faced with a Democratic House that would not consider having the 1956 flag on the referendum due to its Confederate origins, and he needed support for a tobacco tax he wanted to pass to raise revenue. Georgia voters chose the flag resembling the Confederate flag.
- Environmental issues
In 2004, Perdue sued the Environmental Protection Agency to block environmental regulations on reformulated gasoline. In a 2014 editorial published by National Review, Perdue criticized attempts by "some on the left or in the mainstream media" to connect climate change to weather events. Perdue wrote that "liberals have lost all credibility when it comes to climate science because their arguments have become so ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality."
In 2006, Perdue signed a law that gave Georgia "some of the nation's toughest measures against illegal immigrants".
- Georgia drought
On November 13, 2007, while Georgia suffered from one of the worst droughts in several decades, Perdue led a group of several hundred people in a prayer on the steps of the state Capitol. Perdue addressed the crowd, saying "We’ve come together here simply for one reason and one reason only: To very reverently and respectfully pray up a storm" and "God, we need you; we need rain".
- African-Americans in the Confederacy
According to a March 5, 2008, proclamation by Perdue, "Among those who served the Confederacy were many African-Americans, both free and slave, who saw action in the Confederate armed forces in many combat roles. According to the Georgia government's website on Confederate History Month, they also participated in the manufacture of products for the war effort, built naval ships, and provided military assistance and relief efforts..." The proclamation was criticized by historians for its historical inaccuracies, although there were in fact African-Americans who served the Confederacy, both voluntarily and compulsory.
- Disaster preparedness
In 2008, Perdue worked with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency to implement Ready Georgia, a campaign to increase disaster preparedness throughout the state. The next year, Georgia was affected by the 2009 Southeastern United States floods, which were the most severe floods in Georgia's recorded history. The floods resulted in Perdue declaring a state of emergency in 17 counties.
During his governorship, the Georgia State Ethics Commission received thirteen complaints against Perdue. The State Ethics Commission ruled against Perdue twice, finding that Perdue had taken improper campaign contributions from donors including SunTrust Banks, and that he had improperly used one of his family business’s airplanes on campaign, for which the Commission, unusually, fined the sitting governor.
In mid-2003, Perdue purchased 101 acres (0.41 km2) of land next to his Houston County, Georgia home. The land was adjacent to the 20,000-acre Oaky Woods preserve being sold by Weyerhaeuser. The land was eventually sold to developers; however, the state was evaluating bidding on the property and keeping it as a reserve. After the state dropped out of the bidding and the land was sold to developers, the value of Perdue's property more than doubled. Perdue failed to disclose his ownership of the property in required financial disclosure forms.
In December 2004, Perdue bought $2 million worth of land near Disney World from a developer whom he had previously appointed to the state's economic development board.
Perdue was constitutionally ineligible to seek a third consecutive term as Governor in the 2010 Georgia gubernatorial election. In 2011, he founded Perdue Partners, which facilitates the export of U.S. goods and services.
During meetings with Georgia state port officials, then-Governor Perdue discussed his family business's use of a terminal, then started a new export company in Savannah soon after leaving office.
Secretary of Agriculture
On January 18, 2017, incoming President Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Perdue to be United States Secretary of Agriculture. The United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry overwhelmingly approved his nomination on March 30, with a 19-1 vote. The sole vote against him came from Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Senator David Perdue (R-GA) abstained, as he is the nominee's first cousin. He was confirmed by the Senate on April 24, and sworn in by Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.
During his tenure as Secretary of Agriculture, Perdue has focused on helping new farmers get started in agriculture. In August 2017, he announced a mentoring program for new farmers. Others issues addressed by Perdue include assisting rural communities, helping farmers operate with less regulation, increasing exports, passing the 2018 Farm Bill, and addressing crop damage caused by dicamba.
Perdue and his wife, Mary (nee Ruff), were married in 1972 after dating for four years. They have four children (Leigh, Lara, Jim, and Dan), fourteen grandchildren (six boys and eight girls), and have also been foster parents for many children. Perdue lives in Bonaire, Georgia.
Perdue is an avid sportsman. He enjoys flying and, in a 2003 incident, was accused of flying a state helicopter without a license.
In 2006, while still governor, Perdue made a cameo appearance as the coach of the East Carolina Pirates football team in the movie We Are Marshall, large portions of which were filmed in Georgia.
In 2006, Perdue's financial disclosure forms revealed that he had a net worth of approximately $6 million and received compensation of $700,000 that year.
As State Senator
|Democratic||Sonny Perdue (Incumbent)||28,920||100|
|Republican||Sonny Perdue (Incumbent)||24,543||100|
|Republican||Sonny Perdue (Incumbent)||30,681||69.2|
As Governor of Georgia
|Democratic||Roy Barnes (Incumbent)||937,062||46.3|
|Libertarian||Garrett Michael Hayes||47,122||2.3|
|Republican gain from Democratic||Swing|
|Republican||Sonny Perdue (incumbent)||1,229,724||57.9||+6.5|
|Libertarian||Garrett Michael Hayes||81,412||3.8||+1.5|