Originally created 11/05/06

Perdue decisions based on his life experiences

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. - When Sonny Perdue addressed a rally to kick off a 40-stop bus tour in the final days of the campaign, he only spoke for six minutes.

After thanking the other politicians with him on the stage and the military veterans sitting behind him, he briefly highlighted his first term. Then he noted a couple of young twins on the first row and recounted how his outlook changed when he became a grandfather seven years ago.

"It's powerful how we want to continue for each new generation," he said.

That might sum up how he governs. Where other politicians might seek to build far-reaching government programs that will become their legacy, Mr. Perdue is content to leave the state for the next generation better than he found it.

In some ways, Mr. Perdue is a very unpolitical politician. He gave up his position as the second-highest-ranking member of the Senate and a safe seat as a Democrat in 1998 to join the minority party, where he had no power.

After getting elected governor in 2002, his first act was to raise taxes to balance the state budget, despite objections from his political allies. And he says now that the biggest surprise in being governor was how vicious his enemies turned out to be.

Yet, even his critics can't point to any acts of retribution on his part.

In other ways, Mr. Perdue was always on a track for political success. The son of a county commissioner and nephew of the elected local superintendent of schools, Mr. Perdue was president of his class in high school and represented the veterinary school in the Student Senate at the University of Georgia.

"He was a leader," says childhood friend Alton Knight, now an accountant in Griffin. "He was just one of those people who was highly thought of by his peers."

Early life on a Bonaire farm shaped Mr. Perdue. Plowing a big field taught him perseverance. Bad yields instilled him with optimism about the next crop. The vagaries of weather taught him to be thrifty. His father counseled him there was no need to brag because the harvest would one day be its own evidence.

Mr. Perdue would make his career doing business with farmers, buying their grain and selling them fertilizer. He used the commodities market to hedge his investments against the volatility of grain prices.

Mr. Perdue carried those lessons to the governor's office. They served him well, he said, when he had to grapple with declining tax revenues and increasing costs for education and health care.

Other experiences also have left their mark on the state's first modern Republican governor. For instance, he said he turned down several scholarships to attend UGA so he could go to vet school there, even though it meant his only chance to play his beloved football was as a walk-on player.

"That gave me my first taste of how people treat a different class of people by virtue of their station or stature," he said.

Another part of his life that affects his approach to governing is his wife of 34 years, Mary. She urged him to join her in becoming a foster parent to eight children. It was a way to take his opposition to abortion a step further than posturing.

That experience was on his mind early in his tenure, prompting him to scrape together additional money in the state budget for children's services, he said.

Mr. Perdue's genuineness is what drew U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Augusta, to him even though hometown favorite Linda Schrenko was also running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2002.

"I'll tell you what it was, and I didn't even know what his philosophy was. The man was honest," Mr. Norwood said. "After (then-Gov. Roy) Barnes, I was after character."


Sonny Perdue

Party: Republican

Residence: Bonaire

Age: 59

Political experience: Current governor and eleven years in state senate

Profession: Small-business owner

Education: Doctorate of veterinary medicine from the University of Georgia

Family: Wife, Mary, four children and five grandchildren


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