04/05/2019 -- Newnan, Georgia -- United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue (center) arrives at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Detector Dog Training Facility in Newnan, Friday, April 5, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

The Jolt: Sonny Perdue finds that trade war is no joke to farmers

One week ago, China’s chief trading agency announced that it had stopped buying U.S. agricultural products, a blow to American farmers who have already seen their exports to that country reduced by more than half since the year-old trade war began.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall told Reuters the announcement was “a body blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who are already struggling to get by.”

Duvall’s opinion is important. A longtime force in Georgia agriculture, he’s been a close ally of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Timing is everything in comedy. The very next day, Perdue was in front of a group of Minnesota farmers. One jabbed the former Georgia governor on the topic U.S. Department of Agriculture data-collection practices. Here’s what Agri-Pulse said happened next:

Perdue responded in kind with a joke that elicited both laughter and boos from the crowd. 

"I had a farmer tell me this in Pennsylvania," Perdue said. "He said 'What do you call two farmers in a basement?' I said 'I don't know, what do you call them?' He said 'A whine cellar.'"

Perdue told the Minnesota farmers that he was sure the U.S. would gain the Chinese market back, but he also said American agriculture had become too dependent on a single customer for soybeans, a crop far bigger in the Midwest than in the South.

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Meanwhile, Sonny Perdue’s cousin is in Macon with much of Georgia’s congressional delegation for the Georgia Chamber’s annual luncheon. Staff for U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is up for re-election next year, promises that he’ll make news.

Democrats are already attempting to help the Republican senator make headlines, criticizing David Perdue for casting doubt, in a WMAZ-TV interview last week, on whether humans are the major drivers of climate change.

For Republicans, this is shifting ground, and like many in his party, Perdue was more willing to concede the effect than the cause. “Whether man has an impact on global warming or not, you have to look at those statistics, and say okay, if it does then where is the issue?” the senator asked. “The issue is in the developing world. So are we going to ignore that? That’s one reason I had a problem with the Paris Accord.”

His interviewer wouldn’t give up:

Q: “Do you believe what many scientists say, that climate change is if not entirely man-created than man-made fossil fuels are contributing to it?”

Perdue: “Nobody really knows that. There are scientists on both sides of that accord. I’m an engineer, and I’ve looked at the history of the cycles of temperature changing and so forth. We are certainly in one of those cycles right now. But I haven’t seen hard evidence on that one side or the other. And so, what we’re trying to do is take the safe way through here. (Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Sheldon) Whitehouse has a bill to protect the seas – I’m on that bill. So there are things that we’re doing, just common sense things. Clean up the plastic around the planet. Let’s take care of where we are...

Actually, the science is very much settled on climate change. (“It’s here. It’s real,” says Florida’s first-ever chief resilience officer, appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican.)

“There’s one word for Perdue’s climate denialism: dangerous," opined the Democratic oppo research firm American Bridge.

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In Las Vegas to speak to union workers, Democrat Stacey Abrams is set to announce an expansion of her voting rights group on Tuesday, with plans to help train staffers in 20 states this year who will seek to combat voter suppression in the 2020 elections. She intends to follow it up with an event this weekend at a Gwinnett County elementary school, where technical issues triggered hours-long lines in November.

Consider it more evidence that she’s got her eye on a 2022 rematch with Republican Brian Kemp.

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On a related note: According to the Savannah Morning News, Chatham County Commissioners have directed the county board of elections and superintendent “to take a look at where -- and if -- additional polling places are needed.” The newspaper notes this reason for the query:

Voter registrations surged 267% in 2018 with a total of 188,315 registered, an increase of 51,251 registrations compared to the last mid-term elections in 2014.

Early voting included 32,361 voting in person, compared to 17,697 in the 2014 mid-term for an increase of 83%.

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U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, is taking flak for herrecent vote in favor of gradually raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The Employment Policies Institute – a nonprofit withties to the restaurant industry – said it is sending mailers to every business owner in Georgia’s Sixth District inviting them call McBath’s office to ask “why she voted YES on 3.7 million lost jobs.” (Emphasis theirs.)

In comments at a town hall meeting ahead of the House’s July vote, McBath said she was “very, very mindful about any implications any pay raise might have on our small businesses.”

The freshman lawmaker is a member of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of more centrist lawmakers that extracted two major concessions from party leaders to moderate the bill -- a longer phase-in window and assurances that pay hikes could be paused if a federal study shows adverse economic impacts.

Georgia is one of only two states with a minimum wage that’s lower than the federal floor of $7.25 an hour. The state’s $5.15 per hour rate, however, applies to relatively few employers who are not involved in interstate commerce. 

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We don't have any details yet, but former second lady Jill Biden is heading to Georgia on Aug. 27. Her husband Joe has visited the Peach State once since declaring his candidacy for president earlier this year, per the AJC’s presidential candidate visit tracker.

Meanwhile, five Democratic presidential hopefuls will converge on Atlanta on Friday and Saturday, for a forum with African-American church leaders and thousands of black millennials. Details here.

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Flip the Senate, a super PAC tied to Shaun King, an activist of Black Lives Matter fame, has endorsed Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry for Georgia's U.S. Senate seat. 

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Bloomberg Government reports that U.S. Rep. Austin Scott of Tifton is one of at least three Republicans seeking to become their party’s top member on the House Agriculture Committee in 2021. 

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