tv Conversation with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue CSPAN August 26, 2017 12:53am-1:29am EDT
from agriculture secretary, secretary sonny perdue, the latest from administration official to be featured in our profile interviewed serious. that is followed by an encore presentation of "the communicators," with jeff moss talking about security threats. after that, a look at preparations for hurricane harvey, starting with a is conference in texas with the governor. and the white house press briefing. >> agriculture secretary sonny perdue has been with the trump administration since april. he recently sat down with c-span2 talk about his personal and professional life, which included serving in the u.s. air force and being a two-term governor of georgia. secretary perdue also spoke about his family, the recent debate over confederate symbols, and his working relationship with the president. this is about a half an hour. steve: sonny perdue is the 31st agriculture secretary. what does your job entail?
secretary perdue: the agricultural department has a broad portfolio in the united states, certainly from producers, but from food nutrition for people who need -- who are hungry and need food. it creates food safety, it creates marketing programs for trade and many other aspects of the american economy, particularly dealing with farmers, ranchers, and anyone who eats. steve: there is a must of abraham -- a bust of abraham lincoln behind you. secretary perdue: he created part of the agricultural department.
steve: you just came back from a bus to her. you're conducting another one. where did you go and what did you learn? secretary perdue: the first tour was in wisconsin. we opened the fair together, but also used the opportunity for listening sessions for farm groups there, from organics to dairy production to specialty crops. it was a good listening session. what we want to do is get out into the hinterlands of where food is produced and where the impediments are. as you know, the president signed an executive order creating an interagency task or, so we were doing our duties in the rural prosperity aspect of
the task force. we went from wisconsin, had a great meeting with the president in his bar and, and with his neighbors and friends. then, we moved on to minnesota and met -- speaker ryan was with us in wisconsin. we had a meeting with supply people. they typically know what is on their mind. we went over to iowa, and down into indiana and finished in indianapolis. it was a great tour, had great relationships, met at the technical college about rural prosperity, and how rural america needs broadband access for many reasons. precision agriculture and health, education, and the socialization of the young people on farms. steve: i saw some of the news clippings. you took a lot of selfies. [laughter] secretary perdue: we did. they are all displaying their animals as was tradition. it is great competition, teaching them about responsibility. i don't think there is a better way than growing up on a farm to understand that if you don't feed the animals, they don't get said, and all of those responsibilities that farm kids
learn. we had a great time with them and being around them. we also met with other farmers and try to understand the next generation. we know the farming community is aging, and we need to bring in the next generation of farmers. there are bright young kids out there at our universities. the financial barriers are quite high. there are rural development loans for entry into that and helps them get into farming. steve: let me get back to this department. what role does this department play day today for the farmers -- day to day for the farmers? steve: it works with congress to create a farm bill that will be up in 2018. congress relies on the usda to give them counsel and data and information.
information also creates the rural supply and demand report that industry, businesses, corporations, and farmers and ranchers to lie on for their production decisions, and marketing decisions. it is a big information network. day to day, research is also a component. agricultural research services, we interact with universities to develop basic research, the applied research, and through the extension, the delivery of that research to the field. farmers are great innovators. they are doing a magnificent job in production. steve: a lot of corporations owned these farms. how does that affect your job and the agricultural business? secretary perdue: when you think about corporations owning farms, primarily what you are looking for our agreements that farmers have decided to make their farms an llc. many of the corporate farms you hear about our farm families grown to the size to create new organizations for their farm family.
they may have two or three kids, and it allows them to have a piece of the corporations technically there. it is farm families primarily. most of american agriculture is based on families. steve: let's talk about you. your real name is george. how did you get sonny? secretary perdue: i am the third. from a small town called bonaire, georgia. my father was george, and my grandfather was irvin. my father said he looks like sonny to me.
i tried to change it in the air force and go by the legal name, but i never got comfortable with george purdue. steve: why the air force? secretary perdue: vietnam was boiling at that point in time. i was a patriot and believed that -- i saw my other peers going off to vietnam, and i believed i should do my duty in that way as well. i went to the school and wanted to do my patriotic duty, so i signed up for an early commission program. the deal was once i signed on that line, i belonged to the air force. they would do their best to let me finish school. i graduated in 1971 and had an obligation to serve at that time. steve: you played football. how good were you? secretary perdue: i was on the team. i was one of those young
athletes who thought i was pretty good, and went to a differently where i met some world-class athletes. let's say i was not a starter necessarily, but did have the benefit of being on the team and meeting interesting people. we had to all-pro players on the field. one when on to play with miami. billy payne of the augustine national and the atlanta olympics was a teammate as well.
we developed relationships steve: there. steve: what did the sport teach you about life? secretary perdue: it taught me that life is a team sport and you gain the respect and honor of your teammates by contributing in an unselfish kind of way. it is the benefit of family and here at the usda when you treat people as a team and a family, each one of us knowing our responsibilities, we could not all be quarterbacks or running backs or wide receivers, but each of us if we did our jobs
and contributed to the benefit of the team, i think that is a life skill and a gift. steve: how did you meet your wife, mary? secretary perdue: i met her at the university of georgia on a blind date. i was a second year veterinary student. it was my fourth year in college, and she was a freshman from atlanta. mary had been born in new orleans. they had moved to atlanta when she was a freshman in high school, and she came to the university of georgia. i had a friend. they moved into mary's dorm, and it was one of those you have to meet him, you have to meet her kind of deals. fortunately, we had a blind date and never looked back. steve: who was the first to know you would be married? secretary perdue: the first to know we were going to be married? steve: did you know first or did she know first? secretary perdue: i'm not sure. we had an open dating relationship because i wanted to make sure she had a college experience, and i did not try to hold her to tightly together. -- too tightly together. we dated for almost four years. i wanted to graduate from school, have a job, fulfill my active duty obligations. it was getting a masters in speech there p. i guess you could say it was love on first sight. four children and 13
grandchildren. we have been blessed with a large family. i tell people, i had no idea i was marrying such a prolific ran mother. two granddaughters are heading off to college, the youngest is three. we have a great span of grandchildren along the way. steve: what is it like to see your oldest grandchildren go to college? secretary perdue: we are anxious for them, but same time excited. facetime allows us to check in and keep close tabs on them. we give them grandparent advice from time to time. they seem to respect it. , they are great girls, and we are so blessed with all 18 grandchildren -- 13 grandchildren. that is ultimately what life is all about. steve: you have been governor. you are now the agricultural secretary. what is a more difficult job, an executive job or serving on the planning board? secretary perdue: my first job was planning and zoning, and i was asked to serve on that by commissioners who were the guiding authorities of the
county who said, you don't have political ambitions, do you? i said, i don't. and he said, in this job, you won't need any. we were a transitioning county, historically and traditionally agrarian that was rapidly commercializing, and it was a great listening session. it taught me how to listen to people with their passions of their personal property rights, and also the community good, and how these clash sometimes. you could not write enough black and white ordinances or laws. you needed people with heart to listen and adjudicate the differences. it was a great ground to go on to become state senator and listen to people as a representative of the government, and even as governor, and even today from a business perspective, listening to our customers to the state senator and governor, those listening skills that were honed
ther at the planning and zoning commissione in georgia. steve: do you look at communities that have done a good job or conversely a poor job? secretary perdue: absolutely. we got a firsthand look at governor -- as governor of georgia as we looked at development throughout the state. atlanta is a huge metropolitan area, about half the population of georgia, and we have a lot of other counties that were not as prosperous. we were trying to do our best to share the economic prosperity across georgia, so we got a firsthand look at where local leadership really played a huge part in how those communities performed. we get the same opportunity here at the usda with our rural development program, which is a big adjunct helping rural communities across this country with water issues, with help facility issuance, farmer loans and community loans.
it all stems from the leadership, the local leadership, and people having ideas and visions about how they can unselfishly better their communities. steve: you were also a foster parent. why? secretary perdue: mary and die, particularly mary, had a real heart or young children. our children were essentially growing up. we still had a couple at home, but we wanted to give act. our faith proclaims us as pro-life people, we believe life is precious, and we believed it was our responsibility for those parents who wanted to maybe adopt their children, have their children adopted, that we should be a pathway to do that. we were foster parents for newborns awaiting adoption, and obviously most of that would fall upon mary. she is a baby whisperer of the best degree, and a delightful mother and nurturer of particularly smaller children. she did all the work, and i got to claim the credit.
steve: so you are used to 3:00 a.m. feedings? secretary perdue: mary is used to 3:00 a.m. feedings. steve: you went on to be governor of georgia. why did you decide to run? secretary perdue: i tell people when i was born in 1946, they stamped democrat on your birth certificate. i made a political decision that i called truth in advertising in 1990 eight to change parties and became a republican at that part -- point in time, believing in limited government and lesser government was better, and more of a republican form. i served four years for that one. we changed my different -- my district. it was a signal certainly to me and other people not to do what i did by changing parties. i was pro temp in the senate as a democrat and changed additions and was sort of exiled, a modern exile kind of way. the university of georgia football taught me a lot. it was a seminal moment. it taught me a lot about how people view you moving from a position of power to a back insurer again -- back bencher again. that taught me a lot as well. i saw that george is needed to change. i thought we were headed in the wrong -- georgia needed to change. i thought we were headed in the wrong direction. i came to all of our congressional members who were republicans and said, please come back and run. none of them accepted the challenge, and the general excessively -- assembly wrote a note saying we would like you to run. and so i did in 2002. and was elected in november 2002. steve: you defeated a democrat. one of the issues you ran on was redesigning the state flag. we are seeing so much with confederate symbols, certainly in recent weeks in the south. steve: george's flag was changed
to have the stars and bars on it, which was recognized as a confederate battle flag. there was a lot of controversy as georgia was changing and modernizing, with people coming in. many people felt it was not really reflecting who georgia was. they changed the flight through a legislative process that many of us did not feel was conclusive -- inclusive. i had faith in the georgian people, and they would have bought into the vision. a great symbol and signal to the united states that georgia was different and agreed by public referendum to do that.
i agreed to a public referendum for people to vote on the change. they voted for a historical flag that was there for many years from its early history, and it flies today over georgia. i think people are happy to leave that behind us. it reflects who georgia is. steve: what are your thoughts about confederate symbols,
whether it is a flight, the statute of robert ely, or a confederate soldier? secretary perdue: i think it is difficult today to erase history, whether that segment of our history is regrettable in many ways. i think it is very difficult to what we see happening, certainly the incident in charlottesville and durham, north carolina, trying to sterilize history to a point that i think is not helpful. i think these relationships we need to have, just like georgia thinking about the future, not the past. we are who we are. georgia has come a long way from that period in time. we need to move together. one instance of that is as the first republican georgian governor since reconstruction, i managed a $20 billion budget. at one time, over 60% of that budget was administered i african americans. not many people would think about that from the first republican governor, but we had qualified people in most
positions of agencies, and the university system to the department of corrections, health and human services. i first executive counselor was an african-american man run atlanta went to be president of auburn university, and is now a state supreme court justice in georgia. that was a modern georgia. while we cannot sterilize the past, i think we need to move over and think of the future on how we can live and work together. steve: based on that and as someone who grew up in the south, why are we seeing more of this today? secretary perdue: i think some of it is globally political. i think some of it is the lack of acceptance.
we have a president, and i think some people are using those racial inflammatory signals and symbols to again attacked the legitimacy of the trump presidency. steve: let me ask about what you do here day today. the on imagining -- beyond managing the department, what is your day like? secretary perdue: i am an early riser. it takes 20 to 30 minutes getting in, and i will catch up on emails. most people get in around 7:30, 8:00, and we will begin daily meetings. there are a lot of requests, a lot of constituents out there. it is broad, wide, deep, vast. what we are doing right now is dealing with budget issues. we are not even into 18 -- 2018 yet, and we are having to construct the 2019 budget. looking at the transformation of how to best serve the american people through the u.s. department of agriculture, what should be the alignment. we announced reforms for different sections and mission areas to better accomplish the tasks we are called to do. steve: but part of what you are dealing with is the president's budget cuts for the department. where will that be impacted? secretary perdue: again, congress will work on this budget.
we will see what it has to say. when i ask voters if they are willing to take -- most of them hang their heads and shake it. farmers have always done what it took to do that, and that is what we will do at the usda. we don't know if that is what it will amount to people in congress. they plan on backpedaling that. but just like as governor of georgia, we will do what congress as the appropriators give us to do with, and we will do that to the best of our ability. good experience in georgia, governing from the 2003 to the 2011 time period. the general assembly had less money than the year before. we did what ever it took. it was a great time to see the circle servants of georgia and all those agencies rise to the occasion and do more with less, and we do not believe the people of georgia suffered much in that period of time, although we had less money.
going to $16 billion in that time period. i do not believe it will be a severe year, but we will take supply in the most appropriate ways and get the job done. that is what armors do, that is what -- that is what farmers do, that is what agriculturalists do. steve: in georgia you restricted the flow of illegal immigrants into the state. how did you do that? secretary perdue: i think there was frustration on the state level in that we believed immigration is a federal issue, and it was not being help with
on the federal level. many states felt like there were immigrants coming in, a legal immigrants coming into the state. many people felt like they were taking benefits from health care and education that were not being appropriately accounted or compensated for. there was legislation, fairly reasonable legislation while i was governor there, to make sure we dealt with those issues. it was dealt with right merrily out of frustration that we could get no help out of washington. steve: you also put into place a voter id law. some people say it discriminates. secretary perdue: i have never understood that arguments. there was no intention or idea about voter suppression or keeping people from voting. we provided free ids for those people who would request them.
essentially, today if you get on an airplane or go to any public building, there is some type of identification required. i believe that the conversation about using -- about voter suppression is a false narrative. we have come to suspect we have to identify who we are -- to expect we have to identify who we are in all aspects of society. i believe it is the same to vote. i am not one of those who believes that everyone who is a non-citizen who shoul -- should be able to vote. some people believe that just by being here ought to be able to vote in our elections. i do not believe that.
i do not subscribe to that. i believe united states citizenship in our elections should choose our government. those fighter -- voter id identification laws are in place to ensure who we are and if we have the right to vote. in no way are we trying to limit, certainly any particular group, but anyone from voting. we encourage people to vote. we made extended times and hours for people to vote. we open up the absentee voter, where you could vote absentee with no excuse. i think we enhanced the ability of people to vote if they wanted to, but the other side, the less l -- the leftists in america say it is a suppression. steve: do you agree with the idea of a fake media? secretary perdue: i think there are individuals who are very much anti-trump and use the first amendment in a way that is very biased. i think the lack of fact checking on stories and jumping to conclusions that meet the ideological narrative has heard -- has harmed the public as far as trusting the media. we see that in data that people do not trust the media the way
they used to. i would love for that to be settled and for us to get along in the way for the news to proclaim what occurs, not what they hope had raised on ideological views. i think the president is correct in many ways condemning the media for having a point of view opposite his, and use the power of that great media power to advocate in a way that is totally an typical to him. steve: when did you first meet donald trump? secretary perdue: i met him during the campaign, after the convention. steve: how did he offer you the job as agricultural secretary? secretary perdue: i went to visit him in late november as he was fulfilling his cabinet.
he asked my background, asked me whether the things he heard on the campaign trail regarding agriculture true. what did i think need to happen. he had a very clear vision regarding the contribution of american agriculture to the american economy. unlike many people, frankly, who do not understand the depth and degree of the contribution of the american agriculture to the economy. he demonstrated a great intuition and instinct as to how that would work and a great affinity for their plight in life in rural america that was not essentially recovering the same way some urban districts were.
me back and said he would like to offer me the job of secretary of agriculture if i would expect. i thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and i gladly welcomed the challenge. steve: i'm sure your friends and family ask the question, what is he really the like -- what is he really like? secretary perdue: he is very thoughtful and a good corporate leader in his questions and incisiveness getting to the heart of an issue. most great leaders, be them military or corporate leaders, are best at asking questions, and he loves to have an environment where he throws out a question to his staff, to his counselors, to the people in the room over various tough issues and welcomes controversial debates about that. he wants people, in my experience, to persuade him to change his mind. we have had the opportunity to do that. i have been very impressed with the president and his ability to change his mind if he is persuaded with sacks of a different persuasion. steve: can you provide an example? secretary perdue: nafta, during the campaign, the president will lead nafta was bad for all of america. he was on the verge of declaring we would withdraw from nafta. my information here and my experience here and my intuitive experience in the fear that -- in the field was that nafta has been beneficial to american
agricultural interests. i went to the oval office and said, mr. president, i need to give you a different perspective than maybe you have heard. he listened to the facts and made a different determination that we would renegotiate nafta. steve: let me talk about one issue in your portfolio, which is the snap program. why the agricultural department? why do they handle that part of feeding america? secretary perdue: that is a good question. it has to do with the politics of passing these bills and funding. it is not so much an agricultural farm bill as a food stamp bill, and that is where frankly most of the resources go. what we do is work with states in administering this program out there. the administration -- the food stamp program, the snap program, the supplemental nutrition assistance program, is a safety net for people who need temporary help in food supply, who do not have enough money, to provide for their families. it is a great humanitarian program. it is here because congress has
determined the link between agricultural interests and feeding interests of america, to pass a bill we call a farm bill in which the supplemental nutrition is a big part of that. we administer that in a humanitarian way, with states doing that. i believe personally that supplemental nutrition bill should be a temporary stage of life, where people find themselves in circumstances. the president's goal and our goal is to improve the economy to a degree, and we see unemployment numbers going down, where people have access to a job. we have seen people get off of food stamps. their family income has grown better, and they are better off economically than they were on food stamps. it is a temporary program of help in a humanitarian way.
steve: your cousin who is a senator in georgia, what has he told you? secretary perdue: david came and asked me about politics as well. david in 2012 was a very successful ceo of dollar general, and is a citizen. our family dna may have had a lot of civic minded patriotism in that, because he came to meet with a real burden about where our country was headed and what we needed to do, where we were spending money that we didn't have. we were borrowing money to spend that we didn't have. i encouraged him to run. he ran as an outsider against a congressperson who had been a peer for over 20 years and was elected center -- senator.
david stuck to his message that we needed personal responsibility, and we need to reform the budget process. i am proud of his work here. i have often said i would not consider coming to washington dc and served in the federal government if they moved the capital to georgia, but i made sure that didn't happen. when president trump was elected and asked me to join his cabinet, i thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to promulgate the values of representative government, and that is what we are trying to do here. steve: sonny perdue, secretary of agriculture, we thank you for your time. >> sunday in a given daily top thomas rick on his books -- the fight for freedom.
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