James Magazine 2019 Georgian Of The Year: Senator David Perdue

Phil Kent

Friday, March 8th, 2019

Born in Macon and raised in Warner Robins, David Perdue was elected over Democrat Michelle Nunn in 2014 to become Georgia’s junior U.S. senator. After receiving an undergraduate and Masters degree from Georgia Tech, he began a business career which involved heading several large companies including an Atlanta-based global trading firm. Publisher Phil Kent conducted this interview (which was interrupted by a call from President Donald Trump) and James is proud to select Senator David Perdue as our 2019 “Georgian of the Year.”

PHIL KENT: You worked to build a successful business career — in fact, you are the only CEO of a Fortune 500 company serving in the Senate. What made you decide to run for the U.S. Senate?

SENATOR PERDUE: I had a 40-year business career dealing with rules, regulations and laws that came out of Washington. I became concerned that we had a developing global security crisis and a huge national debt crisis, and it had been growing under both Democratic and Republican leadership for years. I felt like things were broken in Washington and that if you wanted a different result you had to send a different kind of person to Washington. Bonnie and I prayed about it and decided we thought we could make a difference and help change the direction of our country for our kids and grandkids.

KENT: How did you get involved politically and cement your Republican Party connections?

PERDUE: I grew up in Georgia and went to school at Georgia Tech. I am an engineer by trade and later worked in business. I first became politically involved when living in Nashville as the CEO of Dollar General. When I was with Reebok, and also when chairman of the National Commission on Adult Literacy for about a decade, we worked with government agencies to advance ways to help children and adults learn to read. I began to get more involved, but never imagined running for elected office.

KENT: When did you first meet Donald Trump and what were your impressions? Did you initially think Donald Trump could get the Republican presidential nomination and, if so, could he be elected?

PERDUE: President Trump and I are both business guys. I had met him a couple times during my career, including when Reebok was involved with the Salt Lake City Olympics. The first time we had a meaningful conversation was in October 2014 during my Senate race. He called and asked if I could meet with him so I went to Trump Tower. He wanted to know about our race and how I was going to win. At the end of the conversation he said, “you’re going to win.” Thankfully, we ended up winning. Two years later in 2016, Trump ran for president with a similar message and talked about the dysfunction in Washington and how we needed someone with a different perspective to get things done. He noted there were a lot of people out in the country who were disenfranchised and upset with Washington— I was one of those, and still am. I’m an outsider in the belly of the beast right now, and always will be. Trump’s message resonated with the American people. He defied the pundits and the polls, and they still have a hard time understanding how he got elected.

KENT: Describe what the president’s impact has been on the Republican Party, as well as on the nation.

PERDUE: President Trump inherited a situation where we had a decade of low growth, people were becoming disenfranchised and we were withdrawing from the global scene. If you look at what we’ve done with the economy, our agenda is working and is making a positive impact on the lives of Georgians and Americans. The economy is growing at twice the rate it did under President Obama, and over 5.3 million new jobs have been created. We have reversed over 870 regulations, passed a tax cut and a bipartisan Dodd-Frank bill that freed up about $6 trillion that is now coming back into the economy. Total unemployment is the lowest in 50 years, and African American, Hispanic-American and Asian-American unemployment is the lowest ever. We’ve begun rebuilding our military after years of disinvestment, and we’ve reasserted American leadership around the world. We’re having conversations about leveling the playing field on trade and getting equal access to other markets. The president is standing up for the American people and demanding our interests be considered first. He has momentum and is now working on next steps when it comes to immigration, trade, and infrastructure. President Trump is also rebalancing the courts. He’s nominated people who are dedicated to upholding the Constitution and adhering to the law. These are not activists with political motives. These judges will have a generational impact on the courts.

KENT: You serve on the Armed Services, Banking, Budget and Agriculture Committees. What do you consider as your biggest legislative accomplishments in these policy areas?

PERDUE: I’m extremely pleased with what we’ve been able to do on the Armed Services Committee. When I came to the United States Senate, I was shocked that the Department of Defense (DoD) had never been audited. This would never be tolerated in the business world. I pressed for a full audit of DoD, and the first-ever audit was completed last November. Additionally, Robins Air Force Base has been named the headquarters for the new Advanced Battle Management System mission for the entire Air Force. That is huge. I was in Augusta earlier last year touring the Army Cyber Warfare Center that is a leader in cybersecurity. Each of these is critical to our national defense. On banking, we passed a bipartisan Dodd-Frank bill, which frees up $2 to $3 trillion dollars of assets on the balance sheets of small community and regional banks. Banks are finally working for average Americans again. We also passed a good farm bill that gives our farmers and rural communities certainty. Georgia Rep. David Scott and I worked together to secure agriculture scholarships at Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) in the final farm bill. As for the budget, the funding process needs to be fixed. That’s why I was pleased to be part of creating a joint select committee that worked all last year on solutions to fix the funding process. Ultimately, we need to create a politically-neutral platform to fund the government on time, every year.

KENT: Last year you introduced the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act. Describe why addressing immigration is so important?

PERDUE: Over the last 30 years, Congress has tried and failed to fix our broken immigration system. With the RAISE Act, Sen. Tom Cotton and I focused on moving to a more merit-based legal immigration system. The United States accepts about 1.1 million legal immigrants every year, but only 1 in 15 of those is for employment reasons. The majority come here on family-based visas, without regard to their skills or our country’s needs. Right now, our immigration laws make it difficult for highly-educated, very productive immigrants to get a green card. The RAISE Act would create a skills-based system similar to those used for decades in Canada and Australia. This is pro-worker, pro-growth, and it’s been proven to work. This is just one piece of the immigration solution. We need a balance between border security and solving our temporary and illegal immigration issues as well. We have 2.5 million temporary work visas to help our agriculture community, construction industries, and manufacturing. But every year 720,000 cross that southern border illegally, and of those over 140,000 have criminal records. This is a national security issue that I hope we can get solved.

KENT: What are some of your proudest accomplishments in terms of assisting and promoting your home state?

PERDUE: The Port of Savannah is the fourth largest and fastest growing port in the country. Georgia has been trying to deepen the port five feet to accommodate larger ships. For 19 years the federal government failed to contribute its fair share to the project, which resulted in delays and additional costs. Last year, the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) received full federal funding for the first time. Everybody was involved, it was an all-hands-on-deck accomplishment and we’re proud of that. I’m also proud of the work we’ve done to support Georgia’s nine HBCUs. I joined the bipartisan HBCU Caucus and we’ve worked across party lines to address funding challenges HBCUs face when financing infrastructure improvements, support minority women in STEM at HBCUs, and provide mentorship opportunities to HBCU students. These results are a model for how Washington can work when the national interest is put ahead of self-interests.

KENT: Why do you want to run for re-election to the Senate?

PERDUE: Look, this has always been bigger than me. We are in a moment of crisis. The global security crisis is still real. The debt crisis is still there. The big reason I went to Washington was to tackle the debt. It is now over $22 trillion. What we did last year was to get the economy growing at twice the rate it was growing before to help lower the debt curve by about $3 trillion over the next decade. Nobody is talking about that. We’ve got to continue growing this economy. We have got to save Social Security and Medicare for future generations. These costs are exploding. We have got to address this healthcare debacle. There are any number of solutions to these problems. We have got to solve our national debt crisis before it’s too late. We have a lot more work to do. The world needs us to be successful.