CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kent Leonhardt, the Republican candidate for West Virginia commissioner of agriculture, believes West Virginia should work to expand farming within its borders.
"This is a very important race," Leonhardt said during a telephone conference Wednesday morning. "The commissioner of agriculture is responsible for the health of the citizens and of the plants and animals of West Virginia."
Longtime Commissioner Gus R. Douglass, now 85, announced in May 2011 that he would not run for re-election. When he retires in January, Douglass will have served as commissioner for 44 years.
Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, is running against Leonhardt. Helmick did not accept Leonhardt's invitation to participate in Wednesday's teleconference.
After Leonhardt's teleconference, Helmick's campaign said, "This is nothing more than a publicity stunt designed to generate free media. The GOP will not set the senator's schedule nor will he participate in a GOP publicity stunt."
Leonhardt spoke about his background during the teleconference.
"During college, I studied wildlife management and took a lot of agriculture courses," Leonhardt said. "Then I spent 21 years in the Marine Corps. I was an intelligence officer in the first Gulf War. I retired as lieutenant colonel in 1996."
Leonhardt said he bought a 205-acre farm with his wife back in 1982. The farm has grown to 380 acres today.
"I am a practical farmer. I started my farm from scratch. Food safety touches every West Virginian every day. The recent power outages showed how vulnerable food is.
"The food supply became very short in some areas of the state. What would happen if a disaster becomes larger?"
Asked whether it was possible for people to eat meals completely made with locally grown foods, Leonhardt said, "It is possible, but we have to work at it.
"I am encouraged by Gov. Tomblin and his wife for growing locally. And she loves to can."