Leonhardt to Run Again For AG Commissioner via The Wheeling Intelligencer

Leonhardt to Run Again For AG Commissioner via The Wheeling Intelligencer

WHEELING – Less than a year into his freshman term as a legislator, West Virginia Sen. Kent Leonhardt has decided to run again for state commissioner of agriculture in 2016.

Leonhardt, R-Monongalia, represents the state’s largely rural 2nd District, which includes part of Marshall County and all of Wetzel and Tyler counties. A 61-year-old retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps, he owns a farm near Fairview, W.Va.

Leonhardt made the announcement Monday morning outside the state Capitol Building in Charleston, joined by his wife, Shirley, and fellow legislators including Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, and Sen. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio.

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LEONHARDT

“I just felt like the (Department of Agriculture) needs some new leadership and a new direction. … My wife supports it, and we said let’s go ahead and do it,” Leonhardt said.

Leonhardt’s political career got off to a somewhat unusual start in 2012 when the GOP named him to the ticket to replace its candidate for agriculture commissioner, Mike Teets, who dropped out of the race for personal reasons. He ended up losing to Democrat Walt Helmick by fewer than 20,000 of the more than 613,000 votes cast in the race.

As agriculture commissioner, Leonhardt said a primary focus would be eliminating so-called “food deserts” in West Virginia – places where residents don’t have ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables. He said promoting agriculture as an economic driver can be a key to the state’s future, and to getting veterans searching for a new purpose after returning home from war back to work.

“Agriculture is a business. It can be a big business, or it can be a small business. … Agriculture can revitalize some of these small towns,” he said.

Leonhardt, who unseated longtime state Sen. Larry Edgell in 2014, would keep his current job even if he loses next year, as he doesn’t have to defend his Senate seat until 2018. He said the prospect of leaving the legislature halfway through his term weighed heavily on his decision, but he felt the pool of experienced farmers willing to run for the agriculture commissioner post is much more narrow than potential candidates for his seat in the Senate.

He added he made a lot of contacts during his first year in office he believes would serve him well as commissioner of agriculture.

“I’ll be able to go to those connections,” Leonhardt said. “I’ll have a little better feel of how to work a bill through the system that will benefit agriculture.”

Leonhardt said if elected, he would be a vocal opponent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial Waters of the United States rule, which defines what rivers, streams, lakes and marshes are subject to the EPA’s and Army Corps of Engineers’ jurisdiction. Opponents say the rule is expansive enough to allow the EPA to fine a farmer for filling a ditch on his or her property.

Leonhardt also opposes Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s veto this spring of Senate Bill 30, which would have allowed West Virginians to buy and sell raw milk through herd-share agreements. Tomblin said his decision was based on safety, but Leonhardt believes the experience of other states where the sale of raw milk is legal doesn’t bear out that concern.

“I believe in freedom of choice. That’s one of the things the raw milk bill was about, was about personal choice,” he said.

Leonhardt was a lead sponsor of five bills during his first session, one of which – a measure authorizing special license plates for Civil Air Patrol vehicles – was eventually signed into law. He also sponsored bills to allow the carrying of concealed weapons without a permit, authorize county governments to use their own money to repair state roads within their borders, require courts to issue divorce certificates reflecting name changes and give advanced practice registered nurses more autonomy in providing medical care.

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