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Trump picks Perdue for agriculture secretary, passing over 4 Texans

President-elect Donald Trump has picked former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to be agriculture secretary, bypassing four Texans who had been seen as candidates for the job.

(L-R) Former state Comptroller Susan Combs, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, former U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla and former Texas A&M University President Elsa Murano.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

President-elect Donald Trump has picked former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to be U.S. agriculture secretary, bypassing four Texans who had been seen as candidates for the job.

Over the past month, Trump and his team had met with four Texans about the post: Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, former Comptroller Susan Combs, former U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, and Elsa Murano, the former president of Texas A&M University.

"If we can’t have a Texan in that job, then I’m proud to have a Southerner in that post who has a passion for agriculture and understands the national importance of agriculture-related trade," Miller said in a statement on the Perdue news.

Trump made it official Thursday morning, hours after reports surfaced that he had settled on the former Georgia governor.

"Sonny Perdue is going to accomplish great things as Secretary of Agriculture," Trump said in a statement. "From growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, he has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face, and he is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land."

Perdue is Trump's last Cabinet pick — and word of it came two days before the inauguration. It extinguishes any remaining hope that Trump would pick a Latino for his Cabinet, a prospect that was raised by his consideration of Bonilla and Murano. 

On Thursday morning, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer defended the diversity of the incoming Cabinet and insisted the transition process has been inclusive.

"It’s not just about skin color or ethnic heritage," Spicer told reporters in Washington. "When you look at the totality of this Cabinet — an Indian American, an African American, Asian American — it’s about a lot of those things."

"So I think you could pick out one subset, but if you look at the totality of the diversity that he’s bringing in this, I would probably say it’s something to hold up second to none," Spicer added.

Soon after Trump won the election, the freewheeling Miller was repeatedly mentioned as a contender to take over the $148 billion federal agency that has a hand in crafting and enforcing policies on farming, food and nutrition, land management and rural development. As the weeks passed, several other candidates emerged.

A president has not had an agriculture secretary with strong Texas ties in his cabinet since David F. Houston, a one-time University of Texas president who served under Woodrow Wilson through 1920.

Trump’s Cabinet is still expected to include some Texans. He has tapped Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Irving-based Exxon Mobil, to be secretary of state and former Gov. Rick Perry to be energy secretary. Perry’s confirmation hearing is set for Thursday.

On Thursday, Miller thanked Trump "for taking the time to get this appointment right and making a choice that will be good for our nation’s agriculture industry." 

Jim Malewitz contributed to this report.

Disclosure: Texas A&M University, the University of Texas at Austin and Exxon Mobil Corporation have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

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