Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, center, has gained a lot of attention recently in his role as secretary of agriculture. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Capitol Recap: The spotlight finds Georgia’s Sonny Perdue

Secretary of agriculture is normally not one of the higher-profile slots in the Cabinet. For instance, there’s no television network drama called “Mr. Secretary” about the nation’s ag chief.

Somehow, though, Sonny Perdue has been popping into the spotlight.

Right now, the former Georgia governor has riled some U.S. Department of Agriculture employees, congressional Democrats and scientific groups with his plan to move two branches — the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service — out of Washington to Kansas City. (At one time, two Georgia cities were in contention for those agencies and the hundreds of federal employees that go with them.)

Opponents have said the moves will lead to a brain drain, thus harming federally funded scientific research. Perdue says it will save the government money and bring the USDA closer to the farmers it serves.

The USDA Office of Inspector General recently determined that the move may be in conflict with a 2018 federal spending law because Perdue made his decision without first obtaining congressional approval. The inspector general report also says the authority ultimately lies in Perdue’s hands.

So, mixed signals? Not to the USDA.

“Since the inspector general affirms the department has the legal authority and we do not agree with the unconstitutional budgetary provision, this case is closed,” the USDA said this past week.

USDA workers, you better start saving boxes.

Some of that feared brain drain could occur for other reasons, though.

One of the nation’s leading climate change scientists, Lewis Ziska, just quit the department, saying the Trump administration tried to bury a groundbreaking study involving climate change. Ziska found that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have caused a loss of nutrients in rice. That’s a big deal for about 600 million people who depend on rice for most of their calories.

Politico reported that Ziska “was alarmed when department officials not only questioned the findings” of his study, “but also tried to minimize media coverage of the paper.” The study did appear last year in the journal Science Advances.

Ziska described the department, according to Politico, as being “in constant fear of (President Donald Trump) and Secretary Sonny Perdue’s open skepticism about broadly accepted climate science.”

Trade battleground is farmland: This past week’s escalation in the trade war with China could batter and bruise the nation's agricultural sector, one of Georgia’s leading farmers says.

China, responding to a Trump administration move to label it as a currency manipulator, announced that it would stop buying U.S. agricultural goods.

Zippy Duvall, a farmer from Greensboro and the head of the American Farm Bureau Federation, described China's decision as a "body blow."

Georgia could certainly feel the pain.

Agriculture, with an economic impact of $73.3 billion, is Georgia’s largest industry, accounting for 1 in 7 jobs. And China is the state’s No. 1 trading partner.

Top exports that could be affected: cotton, poultry and wood pulp.

Grounds for argument: Erick Erickson, the conservative host on News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB, has a theory about why Karen Handel lost her re-election bid last year in the 6th Congressional District: National Republicans let her down.

“In 2018, outside national Republican groups told all of the candidates in Georgia, including Brian Kemp and Geoff Duncan and Karen Handel and Rob Woodall: ‘Don’t worry about the suburbs, we’ve got your ground game.’ They never showed up,” Erickson told the crowd at The Resurgent Gathering, a conference for grassroots conservatives.

“It was a disaster made by the outside Republican groups who lied to the president and lied to the candidates,” Erickson said. “I don’t know where the money went, but it did not go to putting boots on the ground and winning the suburbs.”

That’s not quite the way other Georgia Republicans have described Handel’s defeat in November at the hands of Democrat Lucy McBath. They have said that the state GOP, following Kemp’s strategy, pursued rural voters over suburban voters. It was the same course Donald Trump took in winning Georgia in the 2016 presidential race.

Handel, now one of a group of Republican candidates vying to recapture the 6th District, wasn’t interested in discussing theories.

“In regards to ’18, let me make something abundantly clear,” Handel told the Gathering audience. “Having a Governor (Stacey) Abrams was a nonstarter. So if we had to have a little pause to get Brian Kemp elected, that’s fine.”

Barr says GOP should have stepped up: Former Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, in a column at Townhall.com addressing the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, said the GOP should have done more to oppose white nationalism and racism.

“For too long the GOP has turned a blind eye to the troubling resurgence of this odious movement; perhaps hoping that by not drawing attention to it, it would quietly go away,” Barr wrote. “We see now that is not the case.

“Even though race-motivated mass violence is still a statistical rarity in spite of the headlines it grabs, the cohorts of individuals responsible for the radicalization of the killers like those in Charleston, Gilroy, and now El Paso, continue to spread. Worse still, while these individuals may loath the current GOP and even Trump, through their warped lenses they may see the Republican Party as the vehicle by which to hitch a ride to a more prominent role in society.”

‘Dark money’ ads eye Perdue: Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue is up for re-election next year, which may be why a television ad campaign is singling him out for special attention in its effort to halt legislation concerning medical billing.

Doctor Patient Unity has launched the campaign, spending $2.3 million on TV ads from late July through mid-August.

It says it represents doctors and patients, but Doctor Patient Unity is a “dark money” group, meaning it doesn’t haveto publicize its donors.

OpenSecrets.org reports that a large portion of the group’s ad campaign, about $460,000 worth, has been directed at Perdue.

Here’s a little more detail from its report:

“Its ads urge vulnerable senators to reject a proposal meant to cut down on expensive surprise medical bills. Doctor Patient Unity, an obscure group that doesn’t list its members or disclose its funding, was incorporated in Virginia on July 23. Just a few days later, it ran its first TV ads during CNN’s broadcast of the Democratic presidential debate, a preview of the multi-million dollar ad blitz that would soon follow.”

andy Springs businessman Bruce LeVell, who led Trump’s National Diversity Coalition during the 2016 campaign, is quoted in a Politico story detailing the appeal the president’s 2020 re-election campaign will make to African American voters. It’s a two-part pitch:

  • First, focus on actions. Look at the state of the economy, the low unemployment rate, the passage of the criminal justice measure and the creation of Opportunity Zones meant to boost investment in underserved or poorer cities.
  • Second, don’t bother yourself with the president’s words. Ignore the derisive tweets, like those recently aimed at U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings and the city of Baltimore.

“Don’t get caught up in the emotions; pay attention to the numbers, not the he said, she said,” said LeVell, a onetime Republican candidate in the 6th Congressional District. “I think black male voters, especially, will be a game changer for President Trump’s reelection.”

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Former East Point Mayor Jannquell Peters has filed papers to explore a bid in the 13th Congressional District. That means there could be four contenders in the district’s Democratic primary. The others are U.S. Rep. David Scott; former Cobb County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Owens; and Amber L. Hunter, who filed paperwork in January but hasn’t been a visible force since then.

— The anti-abortion Georgia Life Alliance has given its OK to three Republicans running in the Sept. 3 special election to fill the state House seat that opened up following the resignation of state Rep. David Stover, R-Newnan. The alliance awarded “pro-life” credentials to Nina Blackwelder, Philip Singleton and Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison. The fourth candidate in the race is Democrat Jill Prouty.

— Democrat Shea Roberts is planning another run in state House District 52. In November, Republican state Rep. Deborah Silcox of Sandy Springs, beat Roberts, 52% to 48%. But Democrats have some hope for the seat because Stacey Abrams carried the district during last year’s race for governor. It’s not a sure thing Silcox will be the Republican candidate in November 2020. She’s expected to face competition in the GOP primary after voting — and speaking — against House Bill 481, the state’s new anti-abortion law that bans the procedure at about six weeks into a pregnancy.

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