Those with deep agricultural roots in Florida and Georgia discuss their journey into the world of politics.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue never wanted to enter the world of politics. As a child he grew up on a diversified row crop farm close to Perry, Georgia. After high school, he attended the University of Georgia (UGA) with a desire to practice veterinary medicine. When his time at UGA came to a close, he served in the U.S. Air Force and then moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, to continue his veterinary ambitions.
However, agriculture never left his heart. After spending time in Raleigh, he and his wife, Mary, moved back to Georgia. “I wanted to get back to the land. I wanted to get back to the farming and production agriculture,” Perdue said.
Perdue became a small business owner in Georgia, which led to his first public job. He was asked to serve on the planning and zoning board in Houston County. He served on the board for 10 years. Although he was doing public work, he still did not have any desire to enter the political realm.
But things changed in 1991 when he was elected into the Georgia Senate. Perdue served in that role for nearly 10 years, including as majority leader after four years, and president pro tempore after eight years.
Perdue’s time in the state Senate sparked a fire that led to a long career in politics. After resigning from the Senate in 2001, he ran for governor of Georgia. He was elected and served two terms. After his time as governor, he returned to his life as a small business owner. Then, President Donald Trump called, and Perdue became the 31st U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Perdue has seen great success in his political career, but that did not come without hard work. Perdue chalks his work ethic up to his agricultural roots. “On a farm, you can see the effects of your hard work … There’s an accomplishment that comes with that,” he said.
Another valuable lesson from farm life that Perdue has taken with him is the agricultural law of the land. “It teaches you that you have to do things … in order and timely. You can’t plant in October and harvest in November,” he explained.
Florida Rep. Rick Roth spent most of his life as a vegetable grower and small business owner in Palm Beach County, Florida. He prides himself on employing hundreds of fellow Americans and growing food for our nation.
As a business owner working in the local economy, Roth was always knowledgeable about political issues. He was also a member of the Florida Farm Bureau, where he had the opportunity to serve as a lobbyist for all things Florida-agriculture related. During his time as a lobbyist, he was able to familiarize himself with the political arena and the ins and outs of the state and national capitals.
As time went on, Roth realized that governmental parties were splitting legislators apart, particularly on the federal level. “It’s like you have two parties that are basically enemies to each other instead of finding common ground,” he explained. Roth ran for Congress initially in 2015, but when Pat Rooney declined to run for another term in the Florida House, Roth saw that as a perfect opportunity to get involved. He was elected in 2016.
Roth believes that his experience as a business owner has served him incredibly well in the Florida Legislature. Since the beginning of his campaign, he has been striving to get this message (electing businesspeople to the Legislature) to voters.
Roth currently resides in Loxahatchee, Florida, with his wife, Jeanie. Since this is his second year in his first term, he will have six more possible years in the Florida House of Representatives.
Florida Rep. Ben Albritton found his place in his family’s citrus groves at a young age. Despite serving on the Florida Citrus Commission for five years, he never intended to seek election in the state Legislature.
Albritton had always been involved in political campaigns and the political process throughout his life. However, he never considered running for office because he was content with his life the way it was, with his wife, Missy, and his citrus groves.
When Baxter Troutman was unable to seek re-election in 2010 due to term limits, he suggested Albritton run for his seat. “I told my wife like it was a joke,” Albritton said. However, after considering the proposition more seriously, he felt it was his call to serve.
“It has been rewarding and challenging,” Albritton said. He is grateful for his time in the Legislature, since it has given him the opportunity to advocate for Florida agriculture. “That’s been our goal from the beginning,” he said.
Albritton has served as chairman for the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.
Florida Rep. Josie Tomkow is the newest ag champion on the block. A 22-year-old, third-generation cattle farmer, she was elected in May 2018 after former Rep. Neil Combee was called upon by President Trump to serve as the state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.
Tomkow found her love for the legislative process during her time advocating for agriculture with Florida Farm Bureau and the Florida Cattleman’s Association. “I saw the importance of advocating for ag at the local, state and national level,” she said.
During her senior year at the University of Florida (UF), she interned in Tallahassee with Sam Ard, director of governmental affairs for the Florida Cattleman’s Association, and with Southeast AgNet. During her final semester at UF she decided to take online classes, so she could work under Senate Majority Office Republican leader Wilton Simpson, who Tomkow refers to as “a strong ag man.”
Tomkow said she and former Rep. Combee had always discussed her running for his seat whenever he decided to leave. When she received the phone call from him, saying he was leaving, she felt it was her time to serve. “We desperately need people who are passionate about the agriculture industry to step up, and I am fortunate to be one of those people,” she concluded.
Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black fondly remembers his time on his family’s farm in West Texas. Although he was born and raised in Georgia, he would travel during the summers to Texas to work on a family cotton farm until his father purchased his own farm in 1969 in Commerce, GA.
When Black was in ninth grade, a school counselor encouraged him to join the Future Farmers of America, where his love for agriculture deepened. Black said he always intended to be an ag teacher, but that did not turn out as expected.
In 1980, Black landed an internship with the Senate Committee of Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. For 12 weeks, he sorted mail for senators, did legislative research and provided the senators with ice water during their meetings. “I became fascinated with the policy side of agriculture,” Black said.
This fascination led him to becoming involved with Georgia Farm Bureau and the Georgia Agribusiness Council, which eventually led to becoming the Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture. “Each experience built upon the next,” Black explained.
Black still raises cattle with his wife Lydia on their farm in Commerce.
Georgia Rep. Dickey is the proud owner of Dickey Farms, a peach orchard in Musella. Dickey said he has always been engaged in the political process in one way or another. “My father always encouraged me to stay involved,” he said.
Before seeking office, Dickey was an avid member of Georgia Farm Bureau and the Georgia Agribusiness Council, which gave him a taste of the policy side of ag.
Eight years ago, his predecessor, who was also a farmer, was retiring and urged Dickey to run for his seat.
Dickey said he has enjoyed his time in the Georgia Legislature, and he appreciates his family for taking care of business on the farm. “It’s all about relationships and supporting ag,” Dickey said of his time in office.
This article was featured in the June issue VSCNews magazine. If you would like to receive future issues of VSCNews magazine, click here.
Share this Post