Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black is an early arrival watching election coverage at the Republican Watch party at the Grand Hyatt, Buckhead, on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /email@example.com
“Would I love to have Trump’s support? Absolutely. You’re going to find me saluting all the good things he’s done the past four years. Those accomplishments are Republican accomplishments,” said Black. “But I’m running no matter what. Absolutely. I’m in this race to win the primary and the general election.”
The sleepy race could soon get more jolts. Two military veterans — Kelvin King and Latham Saddler — have already announced bids. U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter has said he’ll run if Walker decides against a campaign. Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and House Speaker David Ralston are among other GOP leaders kicking the tires.
Awaiting the GOP nominee is a tough matchup against Warnock, who defeated Loeffler in January to become the first Black senator in Georgia history. Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, has unified Democratic support behind him and has already built a hefty campaign war chest.
Black enters with his own strengths. He has painstakingly built a base of support in rural Georgia over three terms in office – and 40 years in the farm business – that will come in handy during a contested Republican primary.
He breezed to down-ballot victories during his three election campaigns, and in 2020 was one of Collins’ top surrogates on the campaign trail.
After Hurricane Michael ravaged South Georgia, he was one of the leading advocates for federal relief. Though he has lower visibility in vote-rich metro Atlanta, he might be best known for championing the “Georgia Grown” farm-to-table initiative.
Black is set to formally roll out his campaign at the state GOP convention in Jekyll Island, where he plans to take direct aim at both Warnock and President Joe Biden for their promises to “fundamentally” change the nation.
“They’re five months into it and job growth and opportunity are down; inflation debt and gas prices are up; and the Middle East is back at war. Satisfied? Or sickened?” he said, according to prepared remarks. “I fundamentally object. I’ll stand in the gap and say the wave comes this far and no further.”
OCTOBER 12, 2014-ATLANTA: Chris Irvin (D-left) & Chris Irvin (D) spare during an Atlanta Press Club debate for the State Agriculture Commissioner at the Georgia Public Broadcasting studios in Atlanta on Sunday October 12th, 2014. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
Credit: Phil Skinner
Credit: Phil Skinner
His decision will leave vacant one of Georgia’s top statewide posts. Among the likely contenders is state Sen. Tyler Harper, an Ocilla farmer who is close with Black. Democrat Nakita Hemingway, who lost a suburban Gwinnett County legislative race last year, is also in the running.
In the interview, Black made clear he would lean on his background to contrast with Warnock, who sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
“I just fundamentally object to the positions of this administration and Sen. Warnock. I don’t know the reverend and I never met him,” Black said. “But we have fundamental disagreements and I want to provide a positive choice for Georgians.”
He also outlined conservative stances on many of Georgia’s most divisive debates, including the election rewrite signed by Gov. Brian Kemp that includes new ID requirements for absentee ballots, curbs the use of ballot drop boxes and gives the Republican-controlled Legislature more power over voting rules.
May 4, 2021 Byromville – Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock speaks to supporters at JibbÕs Vineyard in Byromville on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
“Whatever you think about elections, one thing I know is that the election that cannot be stolen is one where we all show up. This is a red state, and I believe our ideas are better. And I believe our citizens believe that. And when we all show up, it’s a Republican win.”
Excerpts from Black’s interview:
On how he’ll appeal to metro Atlanta voters:
“During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve been on the tip of the spear working with (DeKalb CEO) Mike Thurmond to help with food boxes … We’ve helped make lives better, not just for farmers but for all of our citizens. We’ve accomplished so much with school nutrition. And we’ll remind voters that agriculture touches every part of our lives.”
On his stance on the $1.7 trillion infrastructure bill:
“Do we need to have progress in investment in our infrastructure? Absolutely. It’s important for Savannah’s port, for our transportation system, for our economy. But I think we need to be far more strategic and methodical. I look forward to evaluating it more. Should there always be infrastructure investment? Absolutely. But I think there’s a lot of bloat in this.”
On his strategy to defeat Warnock:
“I believe our team is better and we win. I’ve promised our team we will build a grassroots infrastructure that’s historic in its nature … We’re going to do creative things in the grassroots level to inspire. Some will revolve around agriculture, our largest industry. Others will look more broadly.”
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler (right) shares a laugh with Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black (left) while kicking off his Georgia swing at Southern Belle Farm on Wednesday, May 27, 2020, in McDonough. Curtis Compton firstname.lastname@example.org
On whether Joe Biden won the election:
“I’ll tell you what, he was sworn in. There have been questions here in Georgia. I can’t speak to any other state, but what happened in Georgia was a mess. We’ve taken steps to correct that, and I’m going to fight to make sure we have trust in the system.”
On his stance on Georgia’s election law rewrite:
“Georgians have acted responsibly. The Legislature had a good debate and we passed good legislation. I’m glad we’ve taken steps to make things more secure and fair. A few years ago, our Democratic friends had objections involving confidence in the system, and now we’re seeing that on the Republican side. It’s been a mess and we’ve taken steps to clean that up.”
On whether Democrats should eliminate the filibuster in the Senate:
“It’s a travesty that this discussion is going on. It’s what we all warned people about during the presidential campaign. It’s an encroachment on the democratic republic. I hope the Senate will hold. The Senate is meant to be a deliberative body, and I’m absolutely opposed to the changes in the filibuster.”
About the Author
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor’s office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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