Kemp’s latest shuffling of regents could clear way for Sonny Perdue to become chief

Gov. Brian Kemp is further shuffling Georgia’s Board of Regents, which governs the 26 schools in the University System of Georgia. (AJC file photo / Alyssa Pointer)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Gov. Brian Kemp is further shuffling Georgia’s Board of Regents, which governs the 26 schools in the University System of Georgia. (AJC file photo / Alyssa Pointer)

Gov. Brian Kemp pressed ahead with an overhaul of Georgia’s higher education system leadership with a move that could clear the way for former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to become chancellor of the public university system.

The governor tapped a political ally to the 19-member Board of Regents and announced two other members could no longer hold the office due to shifting political boundaries through last year’s redistricting process.

The new political map means that former regents chair Sachin Shailendra and member Rachel Little are no longer on the board because they no longer reside in the districts to which they were appointed.

Kemp tapped homebuilder Tom Bradbury to fill one of the open seats. Shailendra, a well-connected entrepreneur, formally resigned from the post last Wednesday.

The maneuvering comes weeks after Kemp tapped two other key donors to the powerful board, which he’s reshaped since taking office, in part to apparently help Perdue lock in enough support to win approval.

Kemp’s top allies last year publicly backed Perdue, a former two-term governor who served as Donald Trump’s top agriculture official.

Multiple people with knowledge of the situation say the Republican’s chances for the coveted post remain strong, despite the fact that his cousin, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, is challenging Kemp in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is a contender for chancellor of Georgia's public university system. (AJC file photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

icon to expand image

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Sonny Perdue is expected to formally interview for the job within weeks, they say, after a months-long standstill in the selection process that has left the 26 schools in the University System of Georgia without a permanent leader.

Kemp, for his part, has criticized the regents for a process that “has gone on way too long” even as sidestepped a chance to publicly endorse Sonny Perdue for the gig.

“I don’t think that’s good for our state. I don’t think it’s good for the future of the university system,” he said in a recent interview. “And I’m hopeful that because we’re in a new year, and other things, that the board will just move forward and go through the process and talk to the candidates and then decide who they think the best fit would be.”

Kemp has a long relationship with Sonny Perdue that outdates his rivalry with his cousin. The former governor supported Kemp’s 2002 run for state Senate, tapped Kemp to fill the open post of secretary of state in 2010 and talked Trump into giving Kemp his endorsement in the race for governor in 2018.

The chancellor search has been a thorny process for both the Board of Regents and for the governor since chancellor Steve Wrigley announced his retirement from the job a year ago.

Though the regents have the legal authority to select the chancellor, the governor appoints its members and has broad influence over the process.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported Sonny Perdue’s interest in leading the 340,000-student system, one of the nation’s largest.

He later confirmed he was pursuing the job, saying that his experience as governor and as the U.S. agriculture secretary prepared him for the post. He told the AJC he wanted to bring more conservative values to the job.

A groundswell of students and faculty members held rallies against Perdue’s candidacy, noting he has no higher education leadership experience. And a major accrediting agency raised questions about whether politics was interfering with the administrative process.

Amid the backlash, the board could not muster enough support for Perdue, or any other candidate. It restarted the search process in May after a firm charged with recruiting for the post abruptly quit.

Teresa MacCartney, a veteran state financial official, has been acting chancellor since July.

The new regents, however, could jump-start the process. Bradbury is a close friend of Kemp and has donated tens of thousands of dollars to support the Republican.

And two other recent appointees — Tim Evans and Jim Syfan — could swing the vote in favor of Sonny Perdue.

Staff columnist Patricia Murphy contributed to this report.

Teresa MacCartney is the acting chancellor of the University System of Georgia. PHOTO CREDIT: University System of Georgia.

icon to expand image

Atlanta, Thursday, June 17  — University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley, who is retiring after four years in that job and 36 years in state government. He was chief of staff to Gov. Zell Miller when he created the Hope Scholarship. RYON HORNE / RHORNE@AJC.COM

icon to expand image