He was the first Republican governor elected in Georgia in more than 130 years, but George “Sonny” Perdue III began his political life as a Democrat.
Perdue was a baby boomer, born in 1946 in Perry, Georgia. He played quarterback at Warner Robins High School and was a walk-on at the University of Georgia, where he also earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine. Perdue then served three years in the Air Force, rising to the rank of captain. His resume was tailor-made for politics, and Perdue jumped into the arena in the 1980s, first locally in Houston County.
He then served 11 years in the state Senate, the first eight of them as a Democrat. Sensing the political tide turning in Georgia, Perdue switched parties in 1998 and won re-election to the Senate as a Republican.
Four years later, when he beat incumbent Governor Roy Barnes, Perdue became the first Republican to win the office since Rufus Bullock in 1868, breaking a Democratic stranglehold on the office that dated to Reconstruction.
Sonny Perdue became Georgia’s 81st governor on November 5, 2002, Today in Georgia History.
Today in Georgia History is a joint collaboration of the Georgia Historical Society & Georgia Public Broadcasting.