Agriculture Commissioner race features showdown between Monongalia County residents

Published: Oct. 16, 2020 at 5:55 PM EDT
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MONONGALIA COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) - In 2016, 713,051 cast their ballot for president and governor in West Virginia. But in the statewide race for agriculture commissioner, that number was nearly 49,000 fewer at 664,253, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

Republican Kent Leonhardt won that race in 2016 and is seeking re-election against Democrat State Senator Bob Beach.

Both have separate ideas for how to grow the Department of Agriculture, but they have two things in common: they’re both are from Monongalia County and stress the importance of the office on everyday West Virginians.

“We all eat, we all wear clothing, we all sleep in a bed. That’s all agriculture,” Beach said."

“People think agriculture is just farming,” Leonhardt added. “It’s way more than that.”

They also hope fewer voters will pass over their race on this year’s ballot.

It’s a contest that hasn’t garnered much attention over the years. Gus Douglas held the office for 44 years until 2012 when he didn’t seek re-election.

That’s when Leonhardt, who owns a farm near Fairview in Monongalia County, ran against and lost to Walt Helmick for the position. He then defeated Helmick in 2016.

“By every measure of growth, agriculture is doing great,” Leonhardt said. “We’ve got more and more food manufacturing coming into the state of West Virginia. That deserves re-election.”

But Beach said he’s running to change the direction of the office.

“I know his experience. It’s not there,” Beach said. “In the Department of Agriculture, there’s a lot of expertise. I’m bring a different team. I’m bringing people with an ag background.”

Beach, who grew up on his family farm, said he wants to advocate on behalf of farmers and increase the communication between them and the department.

“There’s a lot of messages out there of farmers doing unique things and special things that can drive economic development in the state of West Virginia. We need to get that out there,” Beach said.

He also wants to put greenhouses in schools, increase the number of dairy herds and grow the state’s hemp industry.

“Agriculture is very important to me,” Beach said. “It was instilled in us day one the importance of agriculture.”

But he believes Leonhard lacks the experience needed to effectively lead the department despite occupying the office.

Leonhard disagrees.

“I don’t know how much more experience you can get,” Leonhard said. “I’ve led men and women during peace and war during a crisis. He’s never led a group of people like I have.”

Leonhardt said his work during the pandemic qualifies him for another four years.

“We kept all of our food processing systems open and running, I brought on additional meat inspectors to meet the demand for meat, and our grocery store shelves weren’t near as empty at the beginning of this as other states were,” Leonhard said. “If you eat from a safe, affordable and abundant food supply, which I managed to keep doing during the pandemic, you should care about who your commissioner of agriculture is.”

He also touts increases seen in vegetable growing, honey and maple syrup production, and 4H and FAA participation.

But Beach, who has served in the state legislature for more than 20 years, says his legislative work on agriculture and being raised on a farm makes him more qualified.

“We have a message and that message is we have more experience on my side,” Beach said.

Watch our full conversations with Beach and Leonhardt below.

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