Monday, February 23, 2009

Congressman Sanford Bishop: A Powerful Peanut Industry Politico
by Maynard Eaton
Georgia Online News Service

Georgia's Second District Congressman Sanford Bishop, who finds himself in the eye of the peanut industry's salmonella storm, has reportedly blossomed into a "go-to" guy after eight terms in Congress.

"I've seen his transformation into being a statesman and the person who knows the ins and outs of the political process," says veteran state Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), the Georgia House Democratic Caucus chairman. "He has a keen intellect and he's a realist."

Bishop and Republican Jack Kingston are the two members of the Georgia Congressional delegation on the House Appropriations Committee; a coveted and politically potent appointment. The conservative middle and southwest Georgia Democrat was also said to be on the short list of candidates to be appointed Secretary of Agriculture by President Obama.

"I think it would have been an opportunity to help a lot of people," says the debonair Bishop during an exclusive interview with Georgia Online News Service. "The Department of Agriculture is pivotal in nutrition, in conservation, in energy and those things are very pivotal to our folks."

Bishop is "coming up. He's moving in the direction of being a major political player in Congress," says Dr. Bob Holmes, former state representative and former editor of The Georgia Legislative Review and the Status of Black Atlanta. "Because his Second District is but 52 to 53 percent black, he walks a political tightrope. That's what counts for him being more conservative than most African-American legislators. So he has to play that game in order be a position to help."

The constituents who most need Bishop's help now are peanut farmers. His district grows more peanuts than any other Congressional district in the country. As a result, the salmonella scare has had a horrific impact on the peanut industry and hundreds of the voters he represents.

"You have a company that makes less than 1 percent of the peanut butter on the market that did something crazy, which potentially will have a devastating impact on the entire industry," says Bishop, who was in Atlanta to address the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus' annual Heritage Dinner fundraiser. "Hopefully that's not the case because a jar of peanut butter is safe and it has been certified to be safe, but many people are concerned nevertheless."

Bishop admits that people all over the country are rightfully incensed but says there is legislation on the state level for improved food safety precautions to make sure that if there is a positive finding of salmonella it is reported to regulators promptly. There is also legislation pending that will really tighten up the whole food safety inspection process by separating the food safety functions from the FDA. It's going to be "policed," Bishop promises.

"It's not the farmers' [fault]," Bishop laments. "They are in a quandary now—how much to plant, whether to plant and put that in the context of the economic crisis and it amounts to a terrible situation that we have to face. The industry has pulled together and it is not going to go down because of one bad actor."

But Bishop says what people and politicians want to hear about most these days is the stimulus package and what it will mean for Georgia budget, cities and taxpayers. Because of his Appropriations Committee position, Bishop finds himself in a key role. He conservatively estimates Georgia will receive $5 billion or more. The interest in the stimulus package is so intense that the Legislative Black Caucus speech was his third that day.

"I believe we have taken the first step toward stimulating the economy, creating jobs, investing in our future and our energy independence with renewable clean green energy," says the so-called "Blue Dog Democrat," a term referring to fiscal conservatism. "I think that the $787 billion package will go a long way toward creating those jobs; to create the economic activity and the investments in our infrastructure that have been neglected for so long which in turn will give us a lease on the future."

Bishop's future also appears promising. During the black caucus festivities he was urged by WSB-TV anchor Monica Pearson to run for governor. The idea was warmly received by the 600-member audience.

His longevity and seniority has also seemingly cemented his clout in Washington. He's highly thought of by his white and black constituents and he represents Fort Benning, one of the largest and most important training installations for the military.

"He was obviously a strong supporter of the President, and we don't have a lot of folks in the Georgia delegation that are strong in terms of their support for the President," says William Cannon III, chairman of the Economic Justice Coalition for the People's Agenda. "When it comes to getting the president's ear, he's got to be one if the closest that can talk to him and help facilitate the funds that we need funneled to the state of Georgia."

Bishop admits that he is enjoying this political season because there is "absolutely" a decidedly different atmosphere in Washington.

"There is a lot of excitement," he beams. "There is an era of change. We're very busy. It's amazing and it's historic that we were able to do in three weeks what couldn't be done in eight years."

Maynard Eaton, formerly a multi-Emmy Award winning newsman with WXIA-TV and deputy press secretary for Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, is now the moderator of Newsmakers Live and executive editor of the Newsmakers Journal.   [full bio]


Editor's note: Hello, Georgia.

Yes, we stayed up late for the Oscars, too. It was a great party and today Eleanor Ringel Gillespie says it was one of the best Oscars ever.

Also in Georgia's top news, the future of two nuclear power plants near Augusta took another step at the Capitol. We have a report for you that has comment from many representatives from around the state.

Plus, we profile of Georgia's Second District Congressman Sanford Bishop, who is helping the state's peanut industry fight for its life.

Plus we offer a column from the state's governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the House on why the Department of Transportation can't continue the way it currently does business.

It's a great lineup.

As always, we'd like to hear from you. GONSO is an enterprise founded and staffed by more than two dozen leading journalists and media executives in Georgia. We're providing content free -- for a limited period. Newspapers, broadcasters, bloggers and websites are welcome to use our articles -- please credit the writers and the Georgia Online News Service.

Send your comments and any story ideas to executive editor John Sugg at john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org. You can also call us at 800-891-3459.


Today's GONSO

The Oscars: Wondrously Inventive and Well Executed, With a Gloss of Genuine Sentiment

by Eleanor Ringel Cater
Georgia's best film critic loved just about everything in the 81st annual Academy Awards. It wasn't an evening of surprises – except for the deft hosting of Hugh Jackman – but it was the kind of night Hollywood excels at.

Full Story

Nuclear Finance Bill Breezes through House Committee

by Maggie Lee
A controversial bill that will result in rate hikes for most Georgia Power customers passed its last committee hurdle today and may appear for a House vote as early as Wednesday.

Full Story

Congressman Sanford Bishop: A Powerful Peanut Industry Politico

by Maynard Eaton
Georgia's Second District Congressman Sanford Bishop, who finds himself in the eye of the peanut industry's salmonella storm, has blossomed into a "go-to" guy after eight terms in Congress.

Full Story

SOAPBOX

To Better Serve Georgia, the DOT Must Change

by Sonny Perdue, Casey Cagle and Glenn Richardson
Despite all the money thrown at the problems, Georgians remained trapped behind the wheel with some of the longest commutes in the country. The governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House all agree that the Department of Transportation just can't remain as it is.

Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
Puff the Magic Drag Lived by a Sea (of Red Ink)
by K. Patrick Jensen
Some Georgia Farmers Look to Africa for their Future
by Nadirah Z. Sabir
Georgia Power and the Power of Paying in Advance
by Hollis Gillespie
The Reality is Outpacing the Distortions About Sunday Liquor Sales
by Jim Tudor

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