James Comer

Joseph Lord, Kentucky Public Radio

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer officially announced his bid for governor at the 134th annual Fancy Farm political picnic, becoming the third candidate to do so in the 2015 race and setting the stage for a Republican primary battle against a former Louisville Metro councilman in the process.

"It's been my dream come true to be your commissioner of agriculture. And I view the people of Western Kentucky as our family. So T.J. and I have chosen this time, and this place, to say to all of you, I will be a candidate for governor in 2015," Comer said.

The anticipated announcement now pits Comer, a Republican who succeeded Richie Farmer in 2012, against Hal Heiner, a Republican who narrowly lost to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer in a 2010 election.

Comer says he’s yet to select a running mate, but will do so once he officially files his candidacy papers on Sept. 9.

A new poll suggests the race to decide Kentucky’s next governor, it’s still very much up for grabs.

Data from a recent Bluegrass poll shows a plurality of Kentucky voters have either “no opinion” or are neutral toward three gubernatorial candidates, including Attorney General Jack Conway; former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner; and Agriculture Secretary James Comer, whom is expected to announce his candidacy this weekend at the Fancy Farm political picnic in West Kentucky.

Notably, the poll suggests Conway is trailing Heiner and Comer among African Americans, with a negative favorability rating of eight points.

The poll surveyed 714 registered voters, and reported a margin of error just under 4 percent.

Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

This Saturday the 134th annual Fancy Farm political picnic will feature thousands of pounds of barbecue, and even spicier political rhetoric. In addition, the event’s chairman anticipates this year’s political gathering to be the largest ever.

Mark Wilson and his wife, Lori, have directed the political happenings at the Fancy Farm picnic for the past eight years. Mark anticipates this year’s crowd will be the largest since 1992, when Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Al Gore spoke at the event. 

“It’s a ballpark, 15 to 20,000. And that’s what we anticipate this year, the same type of crowd. 

A lifelong congregant of the stump speech mecca’s St. Jerome Catholic parish, where the event is held alongside raffles and bingo, Wilson says local and state officeholders, as well as both of Kentucky’s U.S. Senators, will be present at Fancy Farm.

He says he anticipates Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner James Comer to keep with a tried and true Fancy Farm tradition and announce his rumored gubernatorial candidacy. 

“There’s speculation that he’s going to announce his intentions to run for governor on the Republican side of the aisle, and we think there’s a very good possibility he will make that announcement on our political platform on Saturday.”

Wilson says the event will also feature its other signature offering: Several thousand pounds of barbeque mutton, chicken, and pork to aid the digestion of what could be the biggest Fancy Farm ever.

Kentucky Agriculture Department officials say they're seeing progress toward ending a stalemate with the federal government over a shipment of hemp seeds meant for test projects.

Attorneys discussed the case Friday during a conference presided over by U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II. Discussions didn't resolve the department's lawsuit seeking release of the seeds, and another conference is set for Wednesday.

Customs officials are holding up 250 pounds of seeds from Italy.
 
Agriculture Department official Holly Harris VonLuehrte said the agency plans to apply for an import permit to obtain the seeds.

Eight projects are planned in Kentucky, and six universities are helping with research.

Unresolved is whether private farmers can participate in the projects.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Schecter says the government wants to be a partner, not an adversary.

Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner says he’s looking forward to a court hearing Friday over his department’s lawsuit against the federal government.

James Comer this week sued three government agencies—the U.S. Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection--as well as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, over a 250 pound shipment of hemp seeds that is being held by federal customs officials in Louisville.

Language in the latest federal Farm Bill allows certain states that have adopted a regulatory framework to plant hemp for the first time in decades, and Kentucky passed a law allowing pilot hemp planting projects run by state-funded universities.

But Comer says federal agents in Louisville have continued to come up with reasons why the latest hemp shipment must be held. The Commissioner says a hearing is set for 1 p.m. eastern time Friday before a federal judge in Louisville.

“We believe that it’s a good sign, that we’re going to be in front of a federal judge this soon after filing a motion," the Monroe County native told WKU Public Radio. "So, hopefully we can get the seeds, because these seeds are going to the University of Kentucky. It’s not like these seeds are going to some shady, upstart business somewhere.”

Kentucky's first legal planting of hemp seeds in decades is being postponed.

Officials from the Kentucky Agriculture Department, Kentucky State University, and pro-hemp groups were scheduled to plant hemp seeds Friday in Rockcastle County as part of a pilot project following the recent relaxing of state and federal rules regarding the crop.

But Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced Thursday that the event has been postponed following a standoff between his department and federal officials over a detained shipment containing 250 pounds of hemp seeds.

The Agriculture Department filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the federal government, in an effort to get the shipment released by customs officials in Louisville.

Kentucky lawmakers passed a law allowing hemp to be planted as part of university-based research projects. Hemp advocates say the crop's fiber and oilseed can be used to make rope, paper, bio-fuels, cosmetics, and healthy foods.

In 1970, the federal government placed hemp on the list of Schedule One drugs, making it illegal to grow.

Hemp Seed Shipment Remains Stuck in Customs in Louisville

May 12, 2014
Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says federal customs officials are blocking the arrival of imported seeds brought in as part of the state's first hemp crop in decades.

Comer said Monday the delay is "government overreach at its worst."

The 250-pound shipment of hemp seeds from Italy has been in limbo for days in Louisville. Comer's chief of staff, Holly Harris VonLuehrte, says the department is prepared to go to court unless customs officials release the seeds.

Hemp production was banned when the federal government classified the crop as a controlled substance related to marijuana.

The crop's comeback began with passage of a new federal farm bill. It allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp pilot projects for research in states such as Kentucky that allow the growing of hemp.

Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

The list of confirmed 2015 Kentucky candidates for governor grew Tuesday, when Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway announced he was running for the office.

He joins Republican and former Louisville Metro Council member Hal Heiner, who announced earlier this year his gubernatorial bid.

Kentucky political observers will now turn their attention on a handful of other potential candidates for governor.

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo has said he is strongly considering a run for Governor, but only if Democrats hang on to their majority in the state House.

Stumbo was the running mate for gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lundsford in 2007, a ticket that lost the primary to Steve Beshear and Daniel Mongiardo.

Other potential Democratic 2015 candidates include state Auditor Adam Edelen and former U.S. Congressman Ben Chandler, who is currently executive director of the Kentucky Humanities Council.

Former state Auditor Crit Luallen announced last month that she won’t run for governor.

On the Republican side, the most high-profile would-be candidate appears to be Agriculture Commissioner and Monroe County farmer James Comer.

Kentucky's first legal hemp seeds almost didn't make it to the state. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says the first batch of industrial hemp seeds was being held by customs officials in Chicago who were unaware of Kentucky's new hemp law.

Comer said the process to get them released was stressful but says federal officials finally agreed to forward them to his office. He says once they arrive, they'll be sent to the state's six research schools to be planted by the first week of June.

Comer says his office paid for the seeds using money donated from a private source.

Campbellsville University

Campbellsville University has become the sixth college in Kentucky to join the commonwealth’s “Farm to Campus” program. That means the university will work with the state’s Department of Agriculture to put more Kentucky Proud-branded products on the shelves of the Campbellsville University bookstore and more locally-grown food in the university’s dining halls. 

Agriculture commissioner James Comer joined Campbellsville trustees Tuesday at an announcement ceremony.

Asbury University, Eastern Kentucky University, the University of Louisville, Morehead State University, and the University of Pikeville are also classified as "Farm to Campus" universities.

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