Politics & Government

Ag Commissioner Comer announces run for governor; third candidate in the race

Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner James Comer announced his intention to run for governor during a speech at the annual Fancy Farm political picnic.
Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner James Comer announced his intention to run for governor during a speech at the annual Fancy Farm political picnic.

With his wife, T.J., at his side on the stage of the 134th annual Fancy Farm picnic Saturday, state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer declared, "I will be a candidate for governor in 2015."

Comer is the second Republican to announce his candidacy for the state's highest elective office and the third candidate to enter the race.

More are expected.

Two men from Louisville — Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway of Louisville and Republican businessman Hal Heiner — have already announced their bids for governor next year.

Comer predicted that neither will be the next governor of Kentucky.

Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

Comer, who will turn 42 on Aug. 19, told reporters after his Fancy Farm speech that he will officially enter the race and announce his running mate at a Sept. 9 news conference behind the courthouse in Tompkinsville, his hometown.

Speculation has focused on state Sen. Christian McDaniel of Kenton County as his running mate for lieutenant governor.

He said he would be looking for someone who could be elected governor.

Comer, a former state representative and the only current Republican constitutional state officeholder, had initially said he would not discuss his gubernatorial plans until after the Nov. 4 elections.

He said Saturday that he changed his mind "after so many House Republican colleagues" called him and asked him to get into the race earlier because Conway had already entered the race and was raising campaign funds.

During his speech at Fancy Farm, which traditionally kicks off fall campaigns in Kentucky, Comer took shots at Conway and other potential opponents.

He reminded the crowd that Conway used a profanity to describe how tough he was at the 2009 Fancy Farm picnic, which is sponsored by St. Jerome Catholic Church.

"He even invited us to chew on his hide," said Comer. "This is going to sound like a public service announcement, but that is not a Kentucky Proud product."

Comer also went after Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg, who said he is weighing a possible run for governor next year but is focused now on the Nov. 4 state House elections to help Democrats keep control of the chamber.

Comer said he would stay out of the Democratic primary next spring for governor.

As Stumbo's relatives in Floyd County might say, said Comer, "I don't have a chicken in that fight."

That was a reference to news reports this year that "distant cousins" of Stumbo in Eastern Kentucky had been charged by federal authorities in a massive cockfighting ring that generated an estimated $1 million in revenue.

Before announcing his intention to run for governor next year, Comer claimed that he has managed the state agriculture department from "worst to first." That was an apparent reference to his predecessor, Republican Richie Farmer, who now is in prison for misusing state resources.

Several others considering next year's gubernatorial race attended this year's Fancy Farm picnic, but Conway was the only one who got to speak, because he is an elected constitutional officeholder.

In his speech, Conway did not mention any of his possible opponents in the gubernatorial race. Instead, he highlighted his office's work, particularly on curbing prescription drugs, and said that is the type of service he and his running mate, state Rep. Sannie Overly of Paris, would bring to the governor's office.

Conway also tried to put some distance between him and President Barack Obama, who is highly unpopular in Kentucky, by saying he is standing up for coal and low electricity rates by suing to stop regulations implemented by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Heiner was unperturbed by Comer's dismissal of Louisville candidates for governor.

"Kentucky needs a governor with an outsider's perspective, someone who is concerned with growing and attracting high-quality jobs, not the political status quo," Heiner said. "As someone who has spent the last 30 years working in the business of job attraction, I believe I am uniquely qualified to get our economy back on track and grow jobs for Kentucky families."

Former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo of Hazard, a Democrat, said he is thinking about the 2015 race but is focusing now on this year's U.S. Senate race and state legislative races.

Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, a Pikeville Republican, said he is being encouraged to run for governor but has not yet decided whether to enter the race.

Republican Matt Bevin, a Louisville businessman who lost the GOP primary for U.S. Senate this year to incumbent Mitch McConnell, said he is listening to many people about possibly running for governor.

Others who have been mentioned as potential Democratic candidates include former U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler and Lexington banker Luther Deaton. Cathy Baily, former U.S. ambassador to Latvia, is another Republican considering the race.

Robert Lee Rosier, an Army retiree from Elizabethtown, filed a letter of intent this year with the state Registry of Election to run for governor to take back the country for Christ. He has no previous political experience.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader