Georgia ex-governor is Trump’s choice for agriculture head

© REUTERS/Lucas Jackson Former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue speaks to the news media after a meeting at Trump Tower with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in New York
Trump leaning towards Georgia ex-gov for agriculture head - official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue is U.S. Republican President-elect Donald Trump's leading candidate to run the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a senior Trump transition team official said on Monday.

Perdue, a Democrat-turned-Republican who founded a grain and fertilizer business, served on Trump's agricultural advisory committee during his presidential campaign.

The official gave no other details about Trump's choice for agriculture secretary, one of the few remaining posts Trump has to fill as he assumes the White House on Jan. 20.

The appointment must be approved by the Republican-led U.S. Senate.

Perdue, 70, led the southern U.S. state for two terms as governor from 2003 to 2011 after previously representing a rural swath of central Georgia about 100 miles south of Atlanta in the state Senate.

Elected in 2002, he became the state's first Republican since 1871, according to the National Governors Association.

After finishing his second term as governor, Perdue founded Perdue Partners, a global trading firm that consults and provides services for companies looking to export products.

Trump had been meeting with a number of other possible candidates for U.S. agriculture secretary, including Elsa Murano, undersecretary of agriculture for food safety under President George W. Bush, and Chuck Conner, head of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

He has also met with Abel Maldonado, former lieutenant governor of California and co-owner of Runway Vineyards; Tim Huelskamp, Republican U.S. representative from Kansas; and Sid Miller, Texas agriculture commissioner.

Sonny Perdue mum on agriculture secretary rumors

Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue declined to confirm or deny reports Monday that he's now the leading candidate to serve as Donald Trump's agriculture secretary.

Reached on his cell phone, Perdue said he couldn't comment, but has been "impressed" by the list of candidates who have interviewed for the job. He referred press inquiries to a spokesman, who also said he couldn't confirm the reports.

A source familiar with the search told POLITICO Playbook that Perdue has emerged as the top contender after a weeks-long hunt for a USDA leader that has stirred anxiety among Trump's supporters in the agriculture industry.

With agriculture secretary one of the final Cabinet-level slots to be filled, Trump has come under pressure to use the post to diversify his administration by picking a woman or a Hispanic. He's interviewed a wide array of contenders, ranging from Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of South Dakota to former California Lieut. Gov. Abel Maldonado.

But those discussions have sparked backlash from Trump's agricultural adivsory committee, a team of Republican farm-industry leaders who supported him throughout the campaign and played a key role in getting him elected. They want to see one of their own in the job.

Perdue, who grew up on a farm and is a veterinarian by training, would be likely to assuage those concerns. From 2003 to 2011, he was governor of Georgia, where the agriculture industry contributes about $74 billion to the state economy each year. Perdue also has owned agribusiness companies since 1977.

Purdue is the latest in a long list of potential candidates to be rumored as the favorite.

Since Wednesday, Trump and his top officials have met with at least five candidates for relatively short periods of time at the president-elect's Mar-a-Lago resort. On Friday Trump sat down with former Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla for less than 30 minutes, immediately after a meeting with former Texas comptroller Susan Combs that lasted less than 10 minutes. Also that day, Sid Miller, the Texas agriculture commissioner, met with Trump's top aides for more than two hours.

On Wednesday, Trump met with two other potential candidates: Maldonado, now a vineyard and produce-farm owner whose field workers have alleged mistreatment; and Elsa Murano, a former top USDA official who did a short stint as president of Texas A&M University. Murano spent five hours at Mar-a-Lago, fueling speculation that she could be Trump's pick.

Sonny Perdue, former Georgia governor, is Trump's lead pick for Ag secretary

NEW YORK – Sonny Perdue III, the former governor of Georgia, is president-elect Donald Trump’s leading candidate to be his U.S. secretary of agriculture, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Perdue, 70, would succeed Tom Vilsack. Perdue met with Trump Nov. 30 and afterward said they talked about agricultural commodities traded domestically and internationally. While Perdue is the front-runner, the decision isn’t final, the person said.

Trump won the presidency partly on strong support from voters in rural areas clamoring for an economic turnaround. Farm incomes are expected to fall for a third successive year while debt levels have risen.

Perdue appears to be emerging from a broad pack of candidates. Trump and his aides have interviewed several others, including former Texas A&M University President Elsa Murano, former Rep. Henry Bonilla of Texas, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, a Democrat.

The president-elect’s statements covered issues that could have major implications for agricultural businesses. The U.S. is a major exporter of crops and other farm commodities, and that flow of goods could be disrupted if Trump follows through with a pledge to reshape trading relationships with China and other countries. Such changes might also affect global commodity prices.

Additionally, if U.S. immigration laws are enforced more strictly, business owners could face labor shortages. Much of the U.S. agricultural workforce are undocumented workers.

On the other hand, farmers may stand to benefit from a promised relaxation of environmental regulations.

If nominated, Perdue would also need to deal with the 2018 Farm Bill. Rural America’s political influence will help shape the legislation, Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and a Trump adviser, has said.

Perdue — no relation to the family of the same name that owns chicken producer Perdue Farms — was born in Perry, Ga. A graduate of the University of Georgia, he served as a state senator. In 2003, he became the first Republican governor of the state in 130 years. He stepped down in 2011, and the same year he founded Perdue Partners, which according to its LinkedIn profile, is an Atlanta-based trading company.

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