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Atlanta’s David Scott: First Black chair to oversee nation’s food supply legislation

U.S Rep. David Scott. (Image from agriculture.house.gov.)

By David Pendered

Congressman David Scott of Atlanta, the first Black chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, is preparing to oversee the formation of the nation’s central food supply legislation.

The legislation, priced at $867 billion from 2018 through 2028, is a political minefield. The spending plan seeks to strike a balance of tensions among urban and rural America, agribusiness and diverse interests including federal funding of ethanol and biofuel infrastructure. The bill typically is updated every five years.

Largely urban populations are served by the SNAP nutritional program for the needy, which the Congressional Research Service says consumes about 76 percent of Farm Bill spending. Rural America is served by the remainder of spending, with programs to suppress wildfires, promote international trade of commodities, insure crops, promote rural development and more.

The significance of the perspective Scott brings to the task of drafting the Farm Bill hasn’t received much attention in Atlanta or beyond. Scott’s negotiating skills may be highlighted as Democrats seek to craft a Farm Bill that satisfies competing constituencies as the party tries to retain control of the House and Senate in the November elections.

Scott has five decades of experience in elected office and politics. Twenty of those years have been in Congress, all of which he served on the Agriculture Committee. Scott’s negotiating skills earned him a seat as a budget conferee, negotiating on behalf of the House position. Scott’s predecessor, Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson, supported Scott’s bid for the post after Peterson lost his 2020 reelection bid to a Republican.

Scott was born in the summer of 1945 on his grandparent’s farm on the still-rural coastal plain of South Carolina. Scott’s path led him out of the segregated Deep South to the school formerly known as Wharton School of Finance and Economy, where in 1969 he earned an MBA with honors. Scott moved to Atlanta in 1969 to open an advertising business. Baseball legend Hank Aaron is Scott’s brother-in-law, and Scott joined the throng celebrating on the field when Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974.

When Andrew Young ran for Congress in 1972, Scott helped with the campaign. In 1974, Scott won election to the state House and served a total of 28 years in the state House and Senate He won passage of measures including a moment of silence in public schools, restrictions on landfills in residential neighborhoods and background checks for gun purchases.

Now, as chair of the House Agriculture Committee, Scott is to control debate of the USDA’s budget. Scott said in a Jan. 20 hearing with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that he intends to start deliberations on the next Farm Bill after the House returns to session in early February.

Unidentified critics are reported to be circling Scott in Washington. They contend Scott, 76, may not have the mental capacity to do the job, according to a Jan. 13 story published by Politico.

Not one critic went on the record to question Scott’s mental acumen. The story reported that interviews were conducted with “28 lawmakers, congressional aides and other government officials.” Ten lawmakers expressed concerns about Scott’s mental state, on the condition their names would not be made public, according to the report. The story reported the top three Democrats in the House said they were not notified of concerns about Scott’s mental capacity — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn.

Scott has said he intends to seek reelection the year to the 13th District, which wraps around southwestern metro Atlanta.

The 13th District is one of three districts cited in the Jan. 7 lawsuit filed against Georgia’s Secretary of State by the Southern Poverty Law Center, on behalf of Common Cause, League of Women Voters and three individuals.

The lawsuit contends the GOP-controlled Georgia Legislature packed Black voters from six counties into the 13th District in order to reduce Black voting strength in surrounding districts. The Black voting age population is more than 20 percent higher than necessary for Black voters to elect a candidate of their choice, according to the lawsuit.

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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  1. Paula Matabane January 25, 2022 10:24 am

    Interesting article but why did you omit that Scott graduated from an HBCU Florida AM before he went to Wharton? Unconscious bias or just didn’t know?Report

    1. David Pendered January 29, 2022 3:34 pm

      Hello, Paula,

      Thank you for reading the piece and sharing your thoughtful comment.

      Your point raises the consistent question of what information should be included in stories of limited length. Our target is 500 words. This one ran 675 words.

      In this case, I determined that most readers could benefit the most from the chairman’s adult history, starting with his graduate degree and including a few career highlights. For this reason, the story omitted the chairman’s frequent relocations as a youth and his undergraduate work that clearly set the stage for his scholarship, admission and success at Wharton.

      Your question reminds of the importance of the details that are included in, and omitted from, every story. To this point, I’ll note that also wanted to include the $80 million the chairman helped secure in the 2018 Farm Bill for scholarships at the nation’s 19 Historically Black Land-Grant Colleges and Universities. As well his childhood stay with grandparents in Scranton, Pa., which is President Biden’s hometown and a place where they may have lived in different universes.

      But, at some point, the end must come and we look forward to the next opportunity to share information.

      Thank you for providing just such an opportunity.
      Best regards,


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