Political experience: Republican nominee for Agriculture Commissioner in 2006, lost to incumbent Tommy Irvin.
Background: University of Georgia degree in Agricultural Education. Field representative, coordinator of Young Farmer Program for Georgia Farm Bureau. President of Georgia Agribusiness Council for 21 years. Owner of Harmony Grove Farms. Married, two grown children.
What are key issues in the race and his goals, if elected:
I believe strongly in safe food, strong farms and a responsible government for all Georgians. Georgians also want their government to be more responsible — a matter of fiscal discipline and performance. I will establish a positive, goal-oriented workplace accompanied by a system to measure results. Georgia needs fresh, but experienced leadership to put this department on the right track. I will enforce food safety laws with science-based, common-sense standards and ensure that inspectors have the equipment and support to perform their duties effectively. I will establish a professional certification program for Georgia’s food safety inspectors.
Political experience: Candidate for U.S. House seat in 1990, U.S. Senate seat in 1994.
Background: University of Georgia graduate. Private agribusinessman. Former assistant to the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with various other positions in the Reagan and first Bush administrations.
What are key issues in the race and his goals, if elected:
Georgia’s economy is in trouble. People are losing their jobs, homes are being foreclosed upon, businesses are closing and we have a general economic malaise and feeling of hopelessness among our citizens. Through expanded overseas markets for Georgia’s farm and ranch product (food and fiber) we will increase jobs in many sectors: Agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, rail freight, shipping and port-traffic. This will foster a general upturn in our state’s economy. Evaluating, analyzing and restructuring the State Department of Agriculture. After 42 years under the same management, I’m certain we will need to make adjustments. Regulating the industries which provide food to our consumers.
For more than 30 years, Jerry Truelove has felt the power of the state commissioner of agriculture.
A full-time dairy farmer since 1979, Truelove has had the Department of Agriculture involved in nearly every aspect of his operation.
The department doles out the required permits, inspects the milk and the facility.
“Just about everything we do is touched one way or the other by the Department of Agriculture,” Truelove said.
But for as long as this agency has been intricately involved in his business, Truelove can’t really say what a change in its leadership will mean for his North Hall farm.
For more than 40 years, Tommy Irvin has been the cowboy boots behind the title. His control over the regulation and promotion of the state’s agricultural industries has lasted longer than most farmers’ careers.
By the time Truelove graduated high school and started farming full time, Irvin had already been commissioner 10 years.
“We’ve had the same commissioner, so I don’t really know what a different commissioner, how they could run the department and do it different,” Truelove said. “... I’m sure a new commissioner, whoever it is, has ideas how they can make things better.”
Four men have signed up to succeed Irvin.
One of two Republicans — Gary Black or Darwin Carter — will move on from the July 20 primary to face Democrat J.B. Powell and Libertarian Kevin Cherry in November’s general election.
Though means replacing of the state’s longest-serving elected official, the race for agriculture commissioner hasn’t been met with much fanfare, as with most choices that appear low on the ballot.
It’s not to say, however, that there hasn’t been some heat in the campaign to control one of Georgia’s largest industries.
Carter filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission against his Republican opponent in the primary, claiming Black had used his office as president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council to campaign.
Black says his 21 years of work at the council has been performed with “integrity,” and that he resigned from the council the day he qualified for the election.
Carter’s complaint, deemed outside the jurisdiction of the ethics commission, was thrown “out the door” a few days after he filed it, Carter said.
Black, the owner of a homegrown cattle operation in Commerce, is seeking the post after losing to Irvin in 2006.
His fundraising has far exceeded Carter’s. The 51-year-old has seen the support of major agriculture executives such as Tyson Foods President Don Tyson, local agriculture extension agents and regional grocery store executives.
By the end of March — the most recent deadline for reporting campaign finances — Black had raised nearly $286,000 for his campaign.
Black, who says he served “all the people all across agriculture” during his 21 years at the agribusiness council, has a message that centers on making food safe after Georgia’s peanut scare. He says he is focused on using technology to improve the way the department communicates internally and with farmers and consumers.
He dreams of improving the bonds between the Department of Agriculture and the University of Georgia’s cooperative extension service.
“I compare myself to a 1940s telephone operator with one wire in the left hand, one in the right hand, and you’re connecting people, connecting producers with markets,” Black said.
He said there’s a hand the department should play in improving access to local foods that could also be a boon to local economies, but “we’re not going to feed 7, 8, 9 billion people on the face of the globe that way,” Black said.
“That’s why it’s important to sell our other commodities that we produce here,” he said.
Black said he wants to be on the plane when Georgia’s governor goes on major trade missions domestically and internationally.
Carter, a former official for the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Reagan administration, says he also is capable of increasing Georgia’s presence in other markets.
Carter says he originally got in the race because of the toll the economy has taken on Georgians.
He says he wants to re-emphasize Georgia’s commitment to agriculture by opening markets, encouraging farmers to produce the maximum product and finding a way for small and large farmers to be involved in international trade.
“Everybody should have a seat at the table and have the same opportunity,” Carter said. “I view that 5,000 metric tons is just as important as that 100,000. The key to that whole issue is making the sale.”
And locally, Carter hopes to have more Georgia-made goods in grocery stores and increase the number of processing facilities across the state that will be accessible to smaller farmers.
“We need to do the processing here in this state,” Carter said. “We’re losing a revenue stream here.”
Carter says he isn’t threatened by the money Black’s raised in the campaign.
Carter, an agribusinessman who also runs his own farm in Bacon County, calls himself the “youngest 70-year-old you’re going to meet.” Carter claims he has the support of various tea party groups in the state, and says money isn’t as vital to a race he calls “narrowly-focused” to a specific audience.
“It requires money, but it does not require a truckload of money,” Carter said. “You could have a zillion dollars and it wouldn’t do you much good in a race like this.”