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Interview with Tommy Irvin, April 17, 2008

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:08 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: I'm Bob Short and this is Reflections on Georgia Politics.

Segment Synopsis: Bob Short introduces Tommy Irvin, Georgia's long-time agriculture commissioner.

00:01:25 - Early life and family

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Partial Transcript: Mr. Commissioner, we are very interested now in you.

Segment Synopsis: Irvin recounts growing up in a sharecropper family, growing cotton for bartering, and working on the farm as child. He remembers his close relationship to his father and how he met his wife.

Keywords: Lula, Georgia; agriculture; cotton; saw mill; sharecropping

00:08:04 - Becoming interested in public service

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Partial Transcript: I got interested in community affairs, and my first public service was the Board of Trustees at Hazel Grove Elementary School.

Segment Synopsis: Irvin discusses becoming interested in public service, serving on the county Board of Education, and being persuaded to run for state legislature. He remembers his introduction to Lester Maddox and being asked to be Maddox's campaign manager and Chief of Staff. Irvin talks about Maddox's elimination of the political patronage system in Georgia.

Keywords: Board of Education; Georgia legislature; Lester Maddox; campaign manager; patronage; political involvement; public service

00:18:13 - Becoming Commissioner of Agriculture

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Partial Transcript: Let me get back a minute to your becoming Commissioner of Agriculture.

Segment Synopsis: Irvin remembers the events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, party switching, and being selected as Lester Maddox's Agriculture Commissioner. Irvin describes the role and development of agricultural industries in Georgia, and comments on his focus of strengthening the state agriculture industry as well as prioritizing food safety.

Keywords: 1968 Democratic National Convention; agriculture; agriculture commissioner; food safety

00:27:03 - Connection between food, trade, and politics

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Partial Transcript: We're importing now a tremendous amount of food from foreign countries, China.

Segment Synopsis: Irvin talks about the volume of imported food that enters Georgia and the concerns for food inspection and safety. He describes his view regarding establishing agricultural trade with U.S. political adversary countries, and discusses the effects of NAFTA on agriculture in Georgia.

Keywords: NAFTA; agriculture; food safety; import and export; trade

00:33:44 - Issues affecting agriculture (energy dependence and immigration)

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Partial Transcript: Let's talk for a minute about ethanol.

Segment Synopsis: Irvin comments on the problems of ethanol as a fuel source, the rise of food and gas prices, and how it is all connected. He further discusses the prevalence of undocumented agricultural workers in Georgia and the need for policy that incorporates them into the legal labor force.

Keywords: corn production; ethanol; fuel; immigration; inflation; work permit

00:41:07 - Working relationships with Georgia governors

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Partial Transcript: Well now, let's get on another subject here.

Segment Synopsis: Irvin talks about his work under various Georgia governors during his career as Commissioner of Agriculture, his efforts against the reduction in funding of the Market Bulletin, and his belief in non-partisanship in the issue of agriculture in Georgia.

Keywords: Department of Agriculture; Jimmy Carter; The Market Bulletin; governors; working relationships

00:51:44 - Influence of partisanship in politics

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Partial Transcript: What is, speaking of Republicans, what is your take of the great rise and strength of the Republican Party in Georgia?

Segment Synopsis: Irvin comments on the rise of the Republic Party in Georgia, its effect on Democratic candidates for public office, and the rise of partisanship in politics. He also discusses his view of putting service over partisanship regarding public office.

Keywords: Republican Party; extended elections; partisanship; public opinion; public service

00:55:36 - Reflection on career legacy

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Partial Transcript: As you look back on your career, what do you think is your biggest accomplishment?

Segment Synopsis: Irvin reflects on the accomplishments of his public service career, including the creating the School Lunch Program in Georgia, and finding solutions to agricultural problems like pests and animal diseases.He also mentions some of his disappointments, and highlights integrity as the legacy of his public service career.

Keywords: Richard Russell; School Lunch Program; boll weevil; bovine tuberculosis; hog cholera

01:01:54 - Audience Q&A / Conclusion

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Partial Transcript: What is the state doing towards solving the hemlock destruction problem?

Segment Synopsis: Members from the audience ask questions regarding the destruction of hemlocks, the decline of honeybee populations, the 2008 Democratic National Primary, and representing constituents.

Keywords: Bill Clinton; Hillary Clinton; hemlock; honeybees; presidential election