State Rep. Ryan Quarles becomes first Republican to enter 2015 agriculture commissioner race

12/01/2014 01:21 PM

GEORGETOWN — Standing aboard a tobacco wagon and calling himself a member of Kentucky’s next generation of leaders, Republican state Rep. Ryan Quarles officially launched his bid for agriculture commissioner on Monday.

Quarles, speaking to about 150 supporters at Bevins Motor Company in Georgetown, is the first Republican entrant in the 2015 field for the post. Quarles, who won a third term in the General Assembly on Nov. 4, picked up a key backer in current Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, a GOP gubernatorial candidate who spoke at Quarles’ campaign launch.

“As your next commissioner, I hope to continue the legacy of James Comer and run a department that speaks up for farmers and rural communities, promotes Kentucky agricultural products and continues to connect farmers with expanding markets,” Quarles said. “As your next commissioner, I will listen to you, continue to put people above politics and run a department that makes Kentucky proud.”

Comer suggested a prerequisite for the position should be a strong background in agriculture, a focal point of Quarles’ remarks. He said he has “holes in my work boots, dirt under my fingernails and have lost enough money during a good year of farming to know what it’s like to really take a risk.”

Quarles, 31, said his campaign will announce chairmen, chairwomen and advisers in the coming weeks.

Quarles picked a familiar target for Republicans in the midterm elections in President Barack Obama. The GOP candidate said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency isn’t just after Kentucky’s coal industry, but the state’s farmers as well thanks to proposed regulations through the Clean Water Act.

“As your next commissioner, I make this promise to you: We will send a loud message to Washington and tell Obama’s EPA to get off the back of family farmers and continue to let us do what we do best, and that’s feed this nation,” he said.

But Quarles said he would run against “costly and illogical regulations” rather than the unpopular president.

“It’s his EPA,” Quarles told reporters after his speech. “I, as a legislator, have sent letters along with other members, both Democrats and Republicans, to his administration discussing the adverse effects of these regulations, and so all we’re asking for are common sense and common ground solutions when it comes to the regulatory environment for farmers.”

As the only Republican in the race, Quarles said he’s working to build a coalition of support across Kentucky. The relationships he’s built in the General Assembly will be key as he makes his first run for statewide office, and a number of Republican lawmakers attended Monday’s announcement.

Quarles called running statewide “a challenge.”

“But I’m up for the challenge,” he said. “I have been active in the General Assembly, particularly farm issues across the state, and I’m really looking forward to bringing excitement, enthusiasm and courage to all 120 counties” during his campaign.

Comer expects Quarles will contribute to a strong down-ballot slate for Republicans next fall. He attributes part of that success to his own gubernatorial campaign, which he said has shown early promise for GOP hopefuls in 2015.

“In this scenario in 2015, people like Ryan and others that are interested in running for attorney general and treasurer and secretary of state, they see the momentum and excitement that (state Sen.) Chris McDaniel and my campaign is generating out there,” said Comer, who must beat Louisville real estate developer Hal Heiner for the GOP nomination in May.

“We’re getting large crowds in every part of the state, so you have a lot of interest from quality people wanting to run for attorney general, wanting to run for commissioner of agriculture, wanting to run for treasurer and auditor because they realize this is a scenario where we’re going to have coattails.”

Comer took charge of a beleaguered Department of Agriculture from former Commissioner Richie Farmer in 2011. Comer and Democratic Auditor Adam Edelen launched an investigation into the agency, which ultimately led to federal charges against Farmer and his incarceration.

The situation will be far different for the next agriculture commissioner, Comer said.

“What Ryan Quarles will inherit is a Department of Agriculture that’s transparent, efficient, the employees are accountable,” Comer said. “He’s also going to inherit an economy, an agriculture economy that is robust right now. There’s a renaissance period taking place in agriculture.”

Democrat Jean-Marie Lawson Spann is the only entrant in the race for agriculture commissioner.


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