Originally created 10/20/06

Experience, safety among chief issues



ATLANTA - Incumbents running for re-election often tout their experience.

State Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin is no different, except that he can boast of being the longest-serving statewide elected officer working in Georgia - actually in the nation.

At a time when the agriculture office is branching out into new areas, such as preparing for the potential spread of avian flu to pushing for the development of biomass energy industry in Georgia, experience is going to come in handy, said Mr. Irvin, who also is one of the few remaining Democrats to be holding a statewide office.

"My primary opponent doesn't have any experience at all. I don't think he has the slight idea of what we do," said Mr. Irvin, referring to his Republican challenger Gary Black. "I've got experience, knowledge and know-how that comes on a regular basis, and he has none of that."

But Mr. Black, who most recently served as head of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, said a long history is not enough to meet the demands of the state agriculture office anymore. He points to the growth of his grassroots campaign this year and the large number of supporters showing up at campaign stops as signs that other Georgians also are calling for change.

"I think my opponent is out of touch with the office, and he's out of touch with the industry," Mr. Black said.

Mr. Irvin has made it known that if elected, the upcoming term - his 10th - would be his final one in office.

Mr. Black's platform includes assembling an economic-development staff to work with other state agencies, pushing for energy crop production and creating a consumer-friendly Web site alerting Georgians about food safety recalls.

Mr. Irvin, who also has been concerned about the increase in food scares, said his office has responded quickly to alerts.

He said he also has worked diligently on a plan for Georgia's poultry industry, which leads the nation in production, in case the potentially deadly avian flu crops up in the state.

Mr. Black dismisses Mr. Irvin's charges of inexperience.

"Part of the responsibility I've had at the Georgia Agribusiness Council was that state, local and federal officials called on me for advice," Mr. Black said. "He's (Mr. Irvin) never hesitated to call and ask me for my advice."

THE CANDIDATES


- Gary Black (Republican)


Residence: Commerce


Age: 48


Political experience: None


Profession: Farmer and immediate past president of Georgia Agribusiness Council


Family: Wife, Lydia; two children




- Jack Cashin (Libertarian)


Residence: Alpharetta


Age: 80


Political experience: Ran for U.S. Senate in 1996; Ran for governor in 1998


Profession: Horse farmer


Family: Wife, Helen; six children; 13 grandchildren




- Tommy Irvin (Democrat; incumbent)


Residence: Habersham County


Age: 77


Political experience: Habersham County Board of Education member; served eight years in the Georgia House of Representatives; served as state agriculture commissioner since 1969


Profession: Agriculture commissioner


Family: Wife, Bernice; five children; 14 grandchildren