Agriculture is an often-overlooked job provider and contributor to West Virginia's economy. Kent Leonhardt, who is running for state commissioner of agriculture in the Nov. 6 election, plans to change that.
It said much about Leonhardt when the West Virginia Farm Bureau endorsed him as "the real farmer in this race."
Leonhardt's chief rival in the race is veteran state legislator Walt Helmick, who operates a spring water bottling company in Pocahontas County. Though Helmick has a long record in politics, his credentials don't measure up to Leonhardt's. Since 1997, Leonhardt and his wife, Shirley, have been farming in Monongalia County. Their 380-acre enterprise includes both livestock and crop agriculture.
With a bachelor's degree in wildlife management and a master's in business administration, Leonhardt has the education background necessary to understand both the scientific and market aspects of agriculture.
Leadership, another key quality for our next agriculture commissioner, was demonstrated during a 21-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps. Before retiring, Leonhardt rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, served in the Desert Storm/Desert Shield operation, and led a special intelligence team.
His platform recognizes both the opportunities and challenges facing West Virginians who cultivate the land. Though Mountain State residents spend about $6 billion a year on food, agriculture generates only about $450 million annually for the state's economy. Leonhardt is confident that can be increased, to the benefit of both farmers and West Virginians who want good, affordable food.
Leonhardt is determined to safeguard the environment and preserve natural resources, while defending farmers against ill-conceived regulations such as some of those from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
He also understands the potential of the forest products industry, and plans to help it grow.
In short, Leonhardt is well-equipped to become West Virginia's next commissioner of agriculture and has realistic yet promising plans to help the industry grow. This newspaper endorses Leonhardt for agriculture commissioner, and urges voters to elect him on Nov. 6.