Ag Policy Blog

Your Sonny Update

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue's nomination to become USDA secretary continues to move slowly.

Impatience is growing within agriculture, the state of Georgia and the media surrounding the nomination of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to be the U.S. Agriculture secretary.

On Friday morning, word came out that Perdue's "paperwork" had landed at the Senate Agriculture Committee office. There were multiple short stories and posts on social media making it clear this had happened.

And yes, the Senate Agriculture Committee got some paperwork. What was sent to the Senate, then referred to the committee was Perdue's nomination paperwork, which is about a three-page document stated the President Donald Trump has nominated Sonny Perdue to run USDA.

This is basically standard notification paperwork. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's nomination was sent over on January 21. He was confirmed February 1. HUD Secretary Ben Carson's paperwork was sent over Jan. 20 and he was confirmed March 2.

Though named by President Trump as the Ag secretary nominee on Jan. 19, for some reason Perdue's nomination papers did not arrive at the Senate until Thursday. https://www.congress.gov/…

A serious beat journalist disdains his or her morning coffee being interrupted by emails with tweets or story links and words in the subject line with the theme "did we know this?" Such emails set off a chain of events.

Responses from communications staff on the Senate Agriculture to DTN stated the committee has not received all of Perdue's paperwork. Still missing are the two key parts of the paperwork, the FBI background report and the ethics paperwork.

That does not mean such paperwork could not show up as quickly as today, but it is not there as of now. And the spokeswoman for the committee majority staff also added that the committee will review the paperwork before scheduling a hearing. It won't automatically trigger a hearing date. Of course, once reporters find out the committee has the FBI and ethics paperwork, there will be immediate queries asking about a hearing date.

Associated Press had an article reiterating some of the details received by DTN. https://townhall.com/…

Perdue's nomination has already drawn a lot of negative attention this week. The New York Times published an article on Wednesday looking at ethical battles Perdue faced as the paper noted Perdue's nomination remains delayed. The Times pointed to the federal Office of Government Ethics as the reason for the hold up. "The office must examine Mr. Perdue's proposal to avoid conflicts of interest while running the USDA, as the department is known, which may include selling off some of his farming assets." https://www.nytimes.com/…

As Georgia's governor, Perdue had 13 complaints filed against him at the State Ethics Commission. The Times reported the commission ruled against Perdue once and even fined him. The Times article then points to Perdue meeting with state officials in charge of the state's ports "to discuss use of a terminal for a family business," citing an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article. Perdue then opened an export business in Savannah, Ga., when he left office.

Defending Perdue in the Times article was Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Duvall has been a steadfast supporter of Perdue's since his name first came up for the Ag secretary post. As Duvall said at the USDA Outlook Forum regarding Perdue, the two are friends.

"He knows how to work with people," Duvall said at the Outlook Forum. "He is a fine gentleman and a great Christian. And he is a veterinarian. We as farmers talk a lot about sound science. Well, a veterinarian is a scientist and he is going to understand those issues."

If confirmed, Perdue will be the only Agriculture secretary who farmed in his adult life, Duvall said. "If you have any questions about this man, you need to put them out of your mind. You are going to enjoy working with him."

Meanwhile, there are several names bouncing around for deputy USDA secretary. Politico reported Nebraska rancher and businessman Charles Herbster was seen dining with President Trump a week ago at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The livestock group R-CALF USA also has pitched Herbster for the deputy slot.

At the Commodity Classic over the past week, multiple sources told DTN that A.G. Kawamura, a former California Ag Secretary, was the frontrunner for the deputy secretary position. Other names keep coming up, including Ted McKinney, Indiana's director of the Department of Agriculture, and Indiana farmer and businessman Kip Tom, who lost a bid for a GOP congressional primary last year.

Even though neither one of the top jobs at USDA has been filled, the journalism organization ProPublica reported Wednesday that the Trump administration has quietly filled hundreds of other positions at different departments, including 39 staffers at USDA. Most of those beachhead people come with the title of "staff assistant," "special assistant" or "confidential assistant." https://projects.propublica.org/…

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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