Nothing new

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has come under fire for using his office to campaign for President Trump.  He’s even been cited for violating the Hatch Act which prohibits federal executive branch employees from using their official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.  USDA has defended Secretary Perdue by saying he did not encourage anyone to vote for a candidate or party or advocate for a partisan political group.  This is nothing new! I have covered every ag secretary since Bob Bergland in the Carter administration and they all, regardless of political party, promoted their administration’s programs thus promoting their boss who happened to be the President of the United States.  Some have been more obvious about doing so than others but no ag secretary is going to openly disagree with the President or they would lose their job.  I’ve always felt the toughest part of the job is to walk the line between what the President wants you to say versus what you personally might feel about an issue if their opinion is different.  Being an effective advocate for agriculture should be the top priority for any ag secretary but doing so without losing your job can often be challenging.  I often told Mike Johanns he delivered bad news well.  It’s not easy to stand in front of a group of farmers and tell them something they don’t want to hear.  Obviously they are going to put the best spin possible on an issue, especially controversial issues, in favor of their President’s policies.  That’s part of their job.  Secretary Perdue has been one of the most visible “campaigners” for his boss of any USDA chief in recent memory.  He didn’t just start doing it in an election year. He’s been “on the road” since taking office and has been an effective advocate for President Trump.  I admit I have been critical of Secretary Perdue at times for being more style than substance but I also think he has probably been the perfect fit for this Administration.  He does a good job of relating to the ag community while representing them to non ag audiences.  Has he at times pushed and perhaps blurred the lines between “official” USDA business and political preference?  Probably but he’s not the first to do so and won’t be the last.