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Ag commissioner

THE state Department of Agriculture has a budget of $65 million a year and a staff of more than 350 people. For 44 of the last 48 years, Democrat Gus Douglass has been its commissioner.

It is time for a fresh assessment of the department.

The Daily Mail endorses Republican Kent Leonhardt, a savvy retired Marine lieutenant colonel who has a farm in Monongalia County, as most likely to do that.

Leonhardt has s a bachelor's degree in fish and game management from the University of Missouri and a master's in business management.

He has a long history of increased responsibility over his 21-year military career.

He and his wife, Shirley, operate Misty Meadows farm in Fairview, raising sheep, cattle and goats, and sell flowers, greens and tomatoes.

Leonhardt would bring a fresh approach to an office that has been in the same hands for decades.

He says rising fuel costs present West Virginia growers with new opportunities to serve the state's own $6 billion-a-year food market and regional ones as well.

He sees opportunities, such as high-tunnel farming, that can extend the growing season. He also would

expand greenhouse production capabilities in West Virginia to meet the produce needs of the region.

His training in wildlife management will be an asset.

Leonhardt's opponent, state Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, has had a lengthy career of public service, and chaired the powerful Senate Finance Committee for many years.

Helmick and his wife, Rita, own and operate a natural spring water bottling company on their 200-acre farm in Minnehaha Springs.

Helmick has a fine record of legislative service.

But Leonhardt, who has an extensive background in intelligence and management, is probably no slouch in that department either. With his analytical skills, he would bring a fresh breeze to a department that needs a thoroughgoing review.

It is time for a thorough reassessment of the state Department of Agriculture.

Leonhardt would do a good job of providing that.


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