James Comer: I'm doing my job, even if it discomfits some

December 2, 2013 

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer

PHOTO BY DAVID PERRY | STAFF — 2012 Herald-Leader file photo Buy Photo

  • At issue: Nov. 25 commentary by state Rep. Chris Girdler, "Wrong time, wrong place, wrong speech; Event sought civil discourse, not Comer's GOP intraparty fight"

People are fed up with old-school partisan politics. They want leadership that achieves results.

In a speech I gave in Somerset recently, I tried to make clear that I intend to act independently of party or faction and do the best job I can for the people of Kentucky. I spoke of the accomplishments of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, which I am honored to share here, and a new vision for Kentucky's future. The response to the speech has been overwhelmingly positive.

My first act after taking the oath of office in January 2012 was to ask the state auditor's office — led by a Democrat — to conduct a wide-ranging audit of the department and the previous administration of Richie Farmer, a Republican. A select few were uncomfortable with this decision. But, with your support, we have made the department efficient, transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of Kentuckians.

I pushed for legislation to make industrial hemp production legal in Kentucky. Again, a select few were uncomfortable with this bold new idea. I was even told our bill had no shot to get a hearing, let alone pass the legislature. But, with your grass-roots efforts and bipartisan support, the bill passed by a large margin.

My staff and I launched Homegrown by Heroes, Jobs for Vets, Udderly Kentucky, Farm to Campus and the Farm to School Junior Chef competition to expand Kentucky Proud and raise awareness of the fresh, nutritious foods produced right here in Kentucky. Standing alongside a bipartisan group of elected officials, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth and Andy Barr, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, we recently launched Homegrown by Heroes as a national brand that will serve thousands of military veterans in all 50 states.

When we found the department's fuel testing laboratory was hemorrhaging $900,000 per year, we closed the lab and privatized fuel testing, saving the taxpayers nearly $600,000 per year. Yet again, a few naysayers opined that we might "take a bath" when we announced our intention to auction the lab's equipment.

But we shocked Frankfort insiders when we recouped every dime of the taxpayers' money, and in some cases, a bit more. I was so proud to stand beside U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and Democratic Kentucky Treasurer Todd Hollenbach as I returned the $1.65 million earmark for the lab to the state treasury. I also went before the legislature and announced that the department would request $500,000 less this budget cycle.

I visited all 120 Kentucky counties in 2012 to promote Kentucky agriculture and I'm on track to do so again this year. In the months to come, I plan to announce more initiatives to expand Kentucky Proud, and will continue to encourage local leaders and businesses to pursue economic development opportunities in agriculture.

I will support legislation that will challenge private business to help solve public problems, and will continue to work across party lines to achieve results. And again, I'm sure a few people will be uncomfortable.

But this is what good government looks like. This is what Kentuckians told me they want — public officials who are not beholden to party bosses or special interests but who put the needs of the people first. I am going to continue to do what is best for Kentucky and offer bold new ideas, regardless of the politics of the day. Make no mistake: That's going to make some people uncomfortable, and I'm OK with that. Because nothing worth fighting for was ever achieved without a bit of a fight.


At issue: Nov. 25 commentary by state Rep. Chris Girdler, "Wrong time, wrong place, wrong speech; Event sought civil discourse, not Comer's GOP intraparty fight"

James Comer is Kentucky agriculture commissioner.

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