Politics & Government

Credentials at issue in race for Kentucky agriculture commissioner

James Comer
says he has cultivated a wide base of support in preparing his bid for governor.
James Comer says he has cultivated a wide base of support in preparing his bid for governor.

During a relatively tame and technical debate on Kentucky Educational Television between candidates for state agriculture commissioner, one recurring question kept popping up: Should the agriculture commissioner have an agriculture background?

Democratic candidate Bob Farmer, a Louisville marketing executive with no farming experience, doesn't think so. Republican candidate Jamie Comer, a state representative and Monroe County farmer, does.

The two argued the point Monday on Kentucky Tonight, hosted by Bill Goodman. During the hourlong program, the candidates outlined their respective plans for the office while taking potshots at each other's credentials.

Farmer maintained his marketing and business expertise would serve rural farmers by creating a program to sell Kentucky-grown products "regionally, nationally and worldwide."

"We'll have Kentucky products in stores in New York," Farmer said.

Comer compared electing Farmer to hiring an attorney with no law degree.

"I don't know how he's going to market an industry he has no experience or knowledge in," he said.

Despite the disagreements, it was clear the two hold similar views on many aspects of the job. Both support bolstering Kentucky's struggling horse industry; both plan to increase production of organic crops and renewable bio-fuels if elected; and both promised to look into authorizing hemp production.

Both say they favor transparency and fiscal responsibility: Comer said every expenditure in the Department of Agriculture's nearly $30 million budget would be posted online,"where every taxpayer can see where their tax dollars are being spent." Farmer said his first task in office would be to audit the department to cut waste and to "sell the luxury SUV that Richie Farmer bought."

The two differed on state subsidies for farm owners. Comer said he would phase out the subsidies, which benefit big farms more than small, local farmers. Farmer said that subsidies are instrumental to burgeoning farmers and that he supported them.

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