Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Race Is Focused on Farming; Whoever Wins Will Likely Reshape the Department

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Race Is Focused on Farming; Whoever Wins Will Likely Reshape the Department

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA - Even though anyone voting can have a say on the next agriculture commissioner, the three men running this year are concentrating their proposals on strengthening the farm economy.

All consumers depend on products regulated by the agriculture commissioner, from grocery stores and pet shops to the quality of gasoline. Indeed, the commissioner deals with so many varied issues, including foreign affairs as they relate to food exports, and homeland security as it relates to food safety, that the job is written into the state constitution.

But it rarely makes headlines unless there is an outbreak of foodborne illness, such as the tainted peanut butter in 2007 produced by a plant in Sylvester.

The same man, Tommy Irvin, has held the job for 41 years. That means whoever wins in November will likely reshape the Department of Agriculture in significant ways.

Running this year are Republican Gary Black, Democrat JB Powell and Libertarian Kevin Cherry. The two major-party candidates do some farming on the side. Black farms in Commerce, but his main job until the campaign was as president and lobbyist for the Georgia Agribusiness Council. Powell, a senator and member of the Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee, farms in Blythe where he grew up, but his main employment is as a project manager for Total Maintenance Solutions.

In the campaign, Powell has taken the most aggressive positions.

He is the first statewide candidate for any office to come out in favor of legalized betting on horse racing. He argues it could have a $1 billion economic impact and create as many as 20,000 jobs, estimates some in the media have disputed.

"Georgians deserve to have a commissioner of agriculture who will fight for common-sense ideas that will help lead Georgia out of the economic challenges we face," he said.

He also supports the sale of raw, unpasteurized milk to consumers.

"The current law that is in place is taking innocent farmers and making criminals of them because people want to drink milk straight from the cow," he said.

To help farmers, while fighting childhood obesity, Powell promises to order schools using federal free-lunch grants that flow through the state Agriculture Department to buy from local producers. …

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