- AP/Barry Williams
On January 19, President-elect Donald Trump nominated former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as his choice for secretary of agriculture. It was the last remaining position in Trump’s inaugural cabinet.
If approved by the Senate, Perdue will helm the US Department of Agriculture, an agency with a $150 billion budget.
As the first Republican governor of Georgia since Reconstruction, he holds conservative positions on immigration and voting rights. On the campaign trail in 2002, Perdue pledged to have a vote to bring back the state’s old battle flag with its large Confederate symbol, which was established in 1956 and removed in 2001. After he won the election, Perdue authorized a referendum in 2003 to allow Georgia residents to choose their own flag, fulfilling his campaign promise.
Perdue approved a new flag proposed by the Georgia General Assembly, which won 73% of the state’s vote and was inspired by the Confederacy’s first national flag, known as the Stars and Bars.
At the time, The New York Times reported that supporters of the Confederate battle flag argued it symbolizes Southern heritage, while opponents said it represents slavery and racism. Roy Barnes, the Democratic governor before Perdue led the effort to remove the flag’s Confederate symbol in 2001. When he ran again in 2002, he lost to Perdue. In a CNN op-ed in 2015, Barnes attributed his loss to anger over the move, especially among older white voters.
“‘The only way to heal this is with the sunshine of coming together and dealing with it in a very forthright approach,” Perdue said in 2003 “That’s why I committed to a referendum.”
The Confederate emblem endures as one of the most controversial symbols in American history. In 2017, after his Senate hearing, Perdue may join the cabinet of a president-elect who is equally divisive.