Two Republicans vie for ag commissioner nomination

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By Stephen Lega

James Comer of Tompkinsville and Rob Rothenburger of Shelbyville are seeking to become Kentucky's next Commissioner of Agriculture.

Before either has a chance to make that happen, one will have to win the Republican nomination in the May 17 primary, however.

The current ag commissioner, Richie Farmer, is running for lieutenant governor on David Williams' ticket. Comer and Rothenburger hope to keep Farmer's seat in Republican hands.

Both candidates replied to the Enterprise's candidate questionnaire. Their complete questionnaires will be posted online at www.lebanonenterprise.com.

James Comer

Comer, 38, is a six-term state representative and a full-time farmer. He is also a graduate of Western Kentucky University (where he studied agriculture) and a former state FFA president. He is seeking to become the next ag commissioner because he loves agriculture and has a vision to lead Kentucky's agricultural industry to the next level.

"I want to help farmers expand markets and add value to existing ones, and I want to help young farm families survive and prosper," he wrote.

Comer noted that he has worked with all the major agricultural organizations during his 11 years as a state representative. He supports ongoing efforts to promote the state's agricultural products through the Kentucky Proud program. He would like to expand the program to include the horse industry, adding that he will work to reverse the decline in breeding mare numbers.

"I will push a tax credit for all horse feed, fertilizer, supplies and breeding expenses just like our beef cattle farmers currently enjoy," Comer wrote. "I will work with our race tracks to see that our purses remain competitive with other states."

As a cattle farmer himself, he will also make sure disease prevention is a priority for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. He wrote that the state veterinarian should work closely with the state's two diagnostic labs. Comer added that he will stay in contact with the state's livestock organizations, and he will work to add value to the livestock industry.

To encourage agricultural education, Comer wrote that he would travel the state and speak to youth and adults about the work done by farmers and to explain where we get our food.

"I will work hard to make our young people more agriculture literate," he wrote.

In terms of management, he wrote that he would run the Department of Agriculture the same way he runs his 2,000-acre farm.

"I will look at every expense from day one and work daily to make our tax dollars go further," Comer wrote. "I will also make the KDA budget 100 percent transparent. This will allow every taxpayer to see online where every penny of the $29,000,000 budget is being spent."

Comer also encouraged voters to visit the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance website (www.kref.gov) to see where all seven ag commissioner candidates (two Republicans and five Democrats) are receiving their funding.

"I have raised the most money of any candidate, but most importantly my money has come exclusively from farmers from 72 counties across Kentucky," he wrote.

Rob Rothenburger

Rothenburger is the sitting Shelby County judge/executive and a former fire chief. He is working on a bachelor's degree from Eastern Kentucky University, where he has already completed an associate's degree.

"I will be a strong voice and advocate for the small farmer and producer," Rothenburger wrote.

He added that he continues to operate a farm, and he has a background in burley tobacco and beef and dairy cattle. As a fire chief, he was able to organize employees and resources. As a county judge, he oversees more than 200 employees, and he has prepared and overseen budgets.

He noted that the Kentucky Department of Agriculture has a $29 million budget and oversees 41 separate programs. 

"One can see very quickly that this organization requires a diverse individual with the set of skills and experiences to meet and match the diversity of this agency," he wrote.

Rothenburger added that Kentucky Proud is important for the state and for local communities, and this program has done a good job promoting Kentucky-grown products.

"We have to work and ensure that we maintain our marketing 'edge' by researching and implementing new marketing strategies," he wrote.

To promote livestock, he wrote that he would ensure that state laws are followed at stockyards, that Department of Agriculture funds are in place to assist livestock producers' efforts to improve genetics, that new marketing strategies are implemented and that health measures to prevent disease transmission and outbreaks are in place.

He added that he would continue to promote the horse industry, both because of the economic impact it has statewide but also because of the national attention that it provides.

"This exposure leads to numerous other economic opportunities for our state, which lead to jobs for our citizens," he wrote.

To promote agricultural education, Rothenburger wrote that he would hold monthly regional meetings so that he and other Department of Agriculture employees could meet with farmers. He added that he would work with school-based organizations and other agricultural organizations statewide.

In terms of management, he would review all the department's programs to determine the best use of its funds. He added that he would make recommendations to the General Assembly's agriculture committee about programs and their impact on citizens. Last, he will take advantage of available federal grants to offset costs at the state level.

At the same time, he wrote that he thinks it is unacceptable for the federal government to impose regulations that threaten farming as a way to make a living.

"Growing up, working and living on a small farm, I truly appreciate the hard work and sacrifice that small farmers make each and every day," Rothenburger said.