OCILLA — While it would be nice — though impossible in today’s ultra-partisan atmosphere — to throw out all the stereotypical political hoo-hah that now inundates every element of modern-day life and talk about what really matters, that’s just not reality.
And that’s sad when it comes to a political candidate like Tyler Harper, who is seeking to replace Gary Black as Georgia’s Agriculture Commissioner. Because Harper, an Ocilla Republican, is much more than a politician. He’s more than a catchy slogan, more than the favorite of his party, more than a fixture in the state’s 7th Senate District. He is, quite simply, the person who, if you drew up the qualifications for the Ag Commissioner position, he’d check off every box.
And while Georgia remains a “red” state, despite its support for Democrats Joe Biden, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the last election cycle, Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike should be looking for candidates who, for one thing, actually know about the offices they seek. Given that criteria, it’s difficult to imagine a more qualified candidate than Harper.
To wit, Harper has:
— An Ag Engineering degree from the University of Georgia (after picking up an associate’s degree at Tifton’s Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College);
— Supported in the state Senate and helped push through legislation that’s had a significantly positive impact on rural Georgians, including farm tax relief and rural broadband;
— Earned during his almost 10 years in the Senate the respect and trust of a great many of his peers in the state Legislature.
But, most of all, Harper has, in his own words, “been involved in the ag industry since I was old enough to work.”
Indeed, the Ocilla native, a seventh-generation farmer, has worked on — and continues to run — his family’s farm on land that the Harpers have owned for more than a century. He serves on the state Senate’s Natural Resources, Public Safety, and Agriculture committees. He also is the Agriculture & Rural Development vice chairman of the Southern Legislative Conference and previously served as president of the Georgia Young Farmers Association.
“I’m proud of my record in the Senate,” Harper said. “My record shows that, during my time in the Legislature, I have worked tirelessly to push issues that impact the 7th District, issues that affect rural Georgia. But I also have championed statewide issues that I thought were important to all Georgians. Among those are agriculture, natural resources and public safety issues.
“When Gary (Black) announced that he was going to run for the U.S. Senate, and thus vacate the Ag Commissioner’s office in 2022, I started thinking about having a bigger voice in the state, having a bigger impact. That’s one of the reasons I decided to run. I have the passion for the ag industry, I know it inside and out from my work in the industry, and I know what it takes to fight for Georgia farmers so that their work remains the No. 1 industry in the state. I don’t know who might ultimately decide to run for the office, but I do know my background compares most favorably to anyone who might decide to run.”
Harper said his primary concern as Agriculture Commissioner would be to make sure that the state’s “food chain” is delivered “safe and protected.”
“Our nation’s food supply chain is certainly a national security issue,” he said. “I believe recent events have shown that we have to put renewed focus on that issue. America feeds its people and much of the world, and we have to continue to make sure we shine a light on that fact. We must invest in the technology and the human capital it takes to keep Georgia growers and producers competitive in the worldwide markets.
“We also need to keep expanding ag education on down to the elementary level — K-12 — so that the next generation can know that there are a lot of opportunities in the ag industry beyond production. And we want to make sure new and beginning farmers have access to ag capital so that they can become a part of the process.”
The candidate says he feels that his team has developed a good plan to run for statewide office.
“Obviously, Georgia is a big state,” he said. “And, yes, running for statewide office is a whole different ballgame. But the 10-county 7th Senate District is the largest, landwise, in the state, so I’m used to traveling. We just had to be a little more methodical in our planning.
“I’ve been to Atlanta, to Savannah to Kingsland, from Columbus to Macon to Decatur County to the (Interstate) 285 doughnut. I’ve been to Albany and all over south Georgia. I’ve been from one corner of the state to the other, just meeting the people, telling them what I wanted to do as Agriculture Commissioner. So far, I’ve been encouraged by the reception. I don’t make a lot of promises, but I do promise the people of Georgia I will work hard. It’s what I’ve always done.”