TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

July 19, 2013

Comer hints at gubernatorial run


TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer Thursday said what everyone believes, that he is considering a run for governor in 2015. But, he said it’s too early to commit unequivocally.

Comer was here to address the joint summer conference of Kentucky Judge/Executives and Kentucky Magistrates and Commissioners and made the remarks before speaking to the group.

The former state legislator from Monroe County is the only Republican state constitutional officer, winning election in 2011 with more votes than any other candidate — Republican or Democrat — on that year’s ballot.

Since then, Comer has been talked about as a potential candidate for governor in 2015 and is viewed by many Republicans as a rising star in his party.

After he succeeded in pushing a bill through the legislature to regulate cultivation of hemp if the federal government relaxes its prohibition, Comer’s stock as a future candidate only increased among the party faithful.

And the potential field for the 2015 Republican gubernatorial primary just got winnowed down a bit this week.

Comer said he was “a little surprised” by the announcement that Republican U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green will not consider running for governor in 2015 and will instead concentrate solely on his re-election effort next year.

“I know he had expressed an interest in running for governor,” Comer said. “But I appreciate he made a decision soon enough that others who are interested in running have time to further their organizational efforts and introductory meetings with big donors.”

Other people like James Comer?

“People like James Comer,” he said.

But he quickly added a final decision is at least a year away.

“I mean, it’s early,” Comer said. “I do think because it’s an open seat, you probably need to be in the race by the summer of 2014.”

Even that is a full year prior to the May 2015 primary, Comer said, and there still is a lot of time, time during which he might change his mind.

“You can be popular one day and very unpopular the next,” Comer said. “We’re going to focus on doing a good job in the Department of Agriculture. If I don’t do a good job in the Department of Agriculture, (running for governor) won’t matter. If I do a good job, then I think the rest will fall into place.”

Comer said he expects Congress eventually will pass a combined farm bill with funding for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) more commonly known as the food stamp program.

The Republican controlled U.S. House for the first time in decades split the two programs and passed a farm bill without funding for SNAP. Historically, lawmakers have paired the two together to earn support of urban lawmakers who wanted the food stamp program and rural legislators who want farm subsidies.

But Comer, whose home county and region suffer from higher-than-average unemployment and poverty rates, said the farm bill-only measure will never get through the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

“I think everyone realizes we’re in a different type of environment with respect to government spending and there’ll probably have to be cuts,” Comer said. “But I don’t think you can just completely end the SNAP program or the food stamp program as we know it.

“It’s important to agriculture and it’s important to low-income families that Congress come together and develop some type of consensus on the food stamp program,” Comer continued. “Because I don’t believe in the end we’ll pass a food bill and a separate farm bill. I think it’s going to be one bill.”

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.