There will not be another Tommy Irvin for quite sometime – if ever in Georgia. Irvin’s retirement at the end of his current term is not a surprise; we all knew he did not qualify to run for reelection several weeks ago. This past Sunday, The Macon Telegraph featured a nice write-up covering his career.
Georgia politicians come and go, but for more than four decades Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin has remained.
He’s a walking 6-foot-5-inch storybook of Southern farming and politics. He was born to sharecroppers who bartered for what they couldn’t produce, yet he regulated the massive industrial farms that make Georgia agriculture a $7 billion industry. The 80-year-old remained a loyal Democrat even as his party fractured over civil rights and Republicans swept into power.
Like him or not, there is one thing you can say about Commissioner Irvin – he has stayed put. This is why I say there will not be another Tommy Irvin. So many of our politicians today seem to be seeking office wishing to use that office as a springboard to a future, higher position. The general age of the average politician makes it nearly improbable for them to serve in a statewide position for so long as well. Irvin spent 42 years as Commissioner of Agriculture – that means he was there nearly two decades before I was born.
Looking at the bigger picture, things in Georgia have changed significantly since days of yore. No longer do we have Senators like Walter F. George, Dick Russell, Sam Nunn, and Herman Talmadge – who, like them or hate them, staid in office for nearly three decades each. (Nearly four for Russell) I have a great bit of respect for most of the candidates running this cycle, both Democrat, Republican, and Libertarian – but I just do not see many of them becoming an institution like these men did and like Irvin did. I think Gary Black will likely be our next Commissioner of Agriculture and I am positive that he will do a great job for the people and farmers of this great state. But I just do not see him, nor Carter or Powell, as having the staying power of Tommy Irvin. But what do I know, I’m just a low grade political junkie.