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January 23, 2017

Georgia politician Sonny Perdue studied veterinary science but made his fortune in trucking, trading grain, and selling chemical fertilizer. Once a conservative Democrat, then a Republican, the former Governor has long been on the wrong side of equity and fairness for family farmers, Black folks, and farm workers.

As a Georgia resident during the controversy over the state flag, I witnessed Perdue’s use of his power to reinforce inequality. In 1956, the state of Georgia had adopted a flag based on the Confederate Battle flag as a symbol of resistance to desegregation of schools. In 2001, listening to the Black community, Governor Roy Barnes took that flag down, replacing it with a flag dominated by the state seal.

But in 2003, Perdue rode the flag issue to victory as governor and then used the white majority to sponsor a referendum to adopt as the current Georgia flag another symbol of the Confederate slave state, the Stars and Bars, which was the official flag of the Confederacy from 1861-1863.

Agribusiness organizations – the very same companies he has made his living trading with – will praise Donald Trump’s choice of Mr. Perdue as Secretary of Agriculture, but farmers, farm workers, and consumers shouldn’t fooled by his symbolic embrace of rural America.

Governor Perdue stands for big agribusiness whose profits grow from the long work days and limited options of farmers and migrant laborers and ultimately, by passing the costs of their production along to the environment, of the American people.

Governor Perdue’s actions speak louder than any words. Because he represents agribusiness which relies on immigrant labor, he is seen as being softer on immigration than other members of Trump’s cabinet. But Perdue actually signed into law in 2006 one of the nation’s harshest pieces of legislation penalizing undocumented immigrants at the state level.

Perdue also favors policies supporting agricultural exporters rather than fair trade policies that allow countries to strengthen production of food domestically.

Politico reports that Perdue as Ag Secretary will “kick some a**” in terms of getting rid of environmental regulation. This will favor large farms and feedlots with dense populations of animals and heavy use of chemicals to minimize the amount of labor needed to prepare land for cultivation, and to manage weeds and pests over large areas.

But environmental protection actually favors smaller farms which can provide the more careful and labor intensive mean of caring for the soil and crops.

Water consumers should be worried about fertilizers and pesticides polluting rivers and groundwater under Secretary Perdue. Family farmers should be concerned about more policies that will replace them with larger corporate farms.