After selecting a cabinet dominated by conservative white men with poor records on civil rights and a history of climate science denial, it appears Donald Trump may fill one of the few remaining slots with a conservative white man with a poor record on civil rights and a climate approach that is anything but scientific. According to Politico, his leading candidate for Secretary of Agriculture is Republican former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Perdue, whose first cousin is current U.S. Senator David Perdue (also R-GA), was elected in 2002 after promising angry voters a referendum on whether to reinstate the Confederate battle cross as the state flag (it had been replaced by Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes in 2001 by a new flag with a much smaller Confederate icon). As Governor, Perdue delighted neo-Confederates by signing legislation permanently making April “Confederate History and Heritage Month” in the Peach State and issued proclamations that honored “the more than 90,000 brave men and women who served the Confederate States of America,” and falsely suggested that “many African-Americans both free and slave” voluntarily served in the Confederate armed forces.
The Secretary of Agriculture position, one a just a handful Trump has not yet named, was seen as one of his last opportunities to diversify his cabinet.
Also troubling, given the important role the USDA plays in setting agriculture policy, is Perdue’s record on environmental policies. As governor, he pushed for the expansion of factory farms, pushed to reduce gas taxes, and fought against the Bush administration’s EPA in its attempt to enforce the Clean Air Act. In a 2014 National Review op/ed defending Common Core (a voluntary set of standards adopted by several states that Trump has paradoxically vowed to “repeal”), Perdue mocked “the left” and “mainstream media” for “ridiculous” coverage of climate change:
Climate change, we’re told, is responsible for heavy rains and drought alike. Whether temperatures are unseasonably low or high, global warming is the culprit. Snowstorms, hurricanes, and tornadoes have been around since the beginning of time, but now they want us to accept that all of it is the result of climate change. It’s become a running joke among the public, and liberals have lost all credibility when it comes to climate science because their arguments have become so ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality.
Indeed, when Georgia suffered from drought during his second term in office, Perdue responded with a less-than-scientific strategy. Perdue held an “interfaith” vigil, featuring only Protestant ministers, outside of the state capitol at which he urged Georgians to pray for rain. “We’ve come together here simply for one reason and one reason only: To very reverently and respectfully pray up a storm,” he told supporters. His bizarre approach to weather went a step further in 2005, when he preemptively asked schools to take two “early snow days,” despite a total absence of snow, ostensibly to save the government money on the diesel fuel costs.
In a few regards, Perdue might be an odd choice for the Trump administration. In 2007, he lashed out at critics of George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq War, saying in a radio interview that “until you’ve got a better idea, keep your mouth shut,” and claiming that Bush “did not choose war. The president chose to protect the United States of America, and he did.” Trump backed the Iraq War in 2002, but has since decided that he did not. Unlike the unapologetic nativist Trump, Perdue also has called for his party to take a softer tone on immigration. “The Republican Party needs to be very, very careful that it maintains the golden rule in its rhetoric regarding immigration policy,” Perdue told the AP in 2010, to ensure that “people of color and people who are not U.S.-born” feel welcome.
Still, Perdue is eager to serve the man he helped elect after his first choice failed to win the GOP nomination. He told reporters after a visit to Trump Tower in November that he was “interested in helping the country,” and told the president-elect, “I’d be happy to serve him if he thought I could be helpful to him.”