Regents moves may set role for Sonny Perdue
Kemp appointees likely a boost for ex-governor and former Trump aide.
Sonny Perdue, the former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, has previously confirmed his interest in leading the state’s public university system, one of the nation’s largest. AJC 2021
As governor, Brian Kemp is able to appoint members to the Board of Regents and has a hand in the process. The board itself has the legal authority to select its chancellor. AJC 2021
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By Greg Bluestein
gbluestein@ajc.com
and Eric Stirgus
eric.stirgus@ajc.com

DIGGING DEEPER BOARD OF REGENTS

Gov. Brian Kemp pressed ahead with an overhaul of Georgia’s higher education system leadership with a move that could clear the way for former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to become chancellor of the public university system.

The governor tapped a political ally for the 19-member Board of Regents and announced two other members could no longer hold the office due to shifting political boundaries through last year’s redistricting process.

The new political map means former regents chair Sachin Shailendra and member Rachel Little are no longer on the board because they no longer reside in the districts to which they were appointed. Kemp tapped homebuilder Tom Bradbury to fill one of the open seats. Shailendra, a well-connected entrepreneur, formally resigned from the post Wednesday.


The maneuvering comes weeks after Kemp tapped two other key donors to the powerful board, which he has reshaped since taking office, in part to apparently help Perdue lock in enough support to win approval.

Kemp’s top allies last year publicly backed Perdue, a former two-term governor who served as Donald Trump’s top agriculture official.

Multiple people with knowledge of the situation say the Republican’s chances for the coveted post remain strong, despite the fact that his cousin, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, is challenging Kemp in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Sonny Perdue is expected to formally interview for the job within weeks, they say, after a months-long standstill in the selection process that has left the 26 schools in the University System of Georgia without a permanent leader.

Kemp has had a long relationship with Sonny Perdue that outdates his rivalry with Perdue’s cousin. The former governor supported Kemp’s 2002 run for state Senate, tapped Kemp to fill the open post of secretary of state in 2010 and talked Trump into giving Kemp his endorsement in the race for governor in 2018.

The chancellor search has been a thorny process for both the Board of Regents and the governor since chancellor Steve Wrigley announced his retirement from the job a year ago.

Though the regents have the legal authority to select the chancellor, the governor appoints board members and has broad influence over the process.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported Sonny Perdue’s interest in leading the 340,000-student system, one of the nation’s largest.

He later confirmed he was pursuing the job, saying his experience as governor and as the U.S. agriculture secretary prepared him for the post. He told the AJC he wanted to bring more conservative values to the job.

A groundswell of students and faculty members held rallies against Perdue’s candidacy, noting he has no higher education leadership experience. And a major accrediting agency raised questions about whether politics was interfering with the administrative process.

Amid the backlash, the board could not muster enough support for Perdue, or any other candidate.

It restarted the search process in May after a firm charged with recruiting for the post abruptly quit.

Teresa MacCartney, a veteran state financial official, has been acting chancellor since July.

The new regents, however, could jump-start the process. Bradbury is a close friend of Kemp and has donated tens of thousands of dollars to support the Republican.

And two other recent appointees — Tim Evans and Jim Syfan — could swing the vote in favor of Sonny Perdue. 

Brian Kemp has had a long relationship with Sonny Perdue that outdates his rivalry with Perdue’s cousin.

The former governor supported Kemp’s 2002 run for state Senate, tapped Kemp to fill the open post of secretary of state in 2010 and talked Trump into giving Kemp his endorsement in the race for governor in 2018.