Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

June 19, 2014

James Comer tests waters for governor race

GLASGOW — It’s no secret that Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer is interested in running for governor in 2015, and although he is yet to make an official announcement about his candidacy, he is testing the waters to see what reaction people might have to his ideas.

“I think I’ve said I’m going to broaden my message,” Comer said Thursday after speaking to the Glasgow Rotary Club at the Glasgow Golf and Country Club. “I always talk about agriculture in every speech, but I believe that we can look at some of the achievements we’ve had at the Department of Agriculture and in the agriculture industry over the last two years and use that as a model for all of state government.”

Comer, a Tompkinsville native, told Rotary Club members he is interested in making Kentucky the most competitive state in the country to own a business, to educate children and to live and work. In order to do that, three things need the most attention: the economy, education and state government as a whole.

“We have to get serious with how we grow our economy in Kentucky,” he said.

Comer said he agrees budget cuts are necessary and that Kentuckians need to live within their means. But part of the problem with having so many budget cuts is that Kentucky is not growing at the same rate as surrounding states.

He used Tennessee and Texas as examples. Both are so-called right-to-work states, and Comer thinks making Kentucky a right-to-work state would entice more businesses and industries to relocate to Kentucky.

“It does send a signal ... that we understand what is important to you as a business owner, a risk taker,” he said.

Comer believes more attention needs to be given to existing businesses and industries in order to retain them.

He shared a story about Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s recent visit to western Kentucky.  

“He was always making fun of the business climate in Kentucky,” Comer said, adding that Perry pointed out that neither Texas nor Tennessee have income taxes and that both are right-to-work states. Perry, according to Comer, also said, “Every business in the United States knows that Texas is the place to locate.

“He said this in Kentucky, and sure enough a few weeks later there was an announcement that Toyota was relocating to Texas.”

The move meant a loss of about 1,600 Kentucky jobs.

“I’m proud of Kentucky. I think Kentucky is a lot better state than Texas and I know Kentucky is a lot better state than Tennessee, but I do believe there are things we can do to grow our economy and send a signal to industries, not just prospective industries, but our existing industries that we are serious, we understand what you are going through … and we are going to work hard on growing our economy,” he said.

As for education, Comer pointed out that 60 percent of the state’s general fund budget goes to public education.

“Countries that have good education systems are countries that are growing their economies,” he said. “Countries that fail in education start to decline.”

The fundamental problem with education in Kentucky is that students are graduating without being career ready, he said, adding that students need to be educated in the areas of math, science, engineering and technology in order to meet the demand in the workforce.

Comer also said he believes Kentuckians need to be less dependent on government.

“The size of Kentucky’s state government is too big for the number of people living in the state,” he said.”Our tax code is not elastic. It doesn’t grow with the economy.”

That is why he supports state government reform, he said.

Among those who heard Comer’s speech was Owen Lambert, chairman of the Industrial Development Economic Authority for Glasgow-Barren County.

“I was thrilled about what he had to say about recruiting industry and what he had to say about creating jobs in Kentucky,” Lambert said. “Just like Commissioner Comer, I think jobs are the linchpin for creating a better economy for Kentucky.”

Doug Isenberg, who is seeking a seat on Barren Fiscal Court, also liked what Comer had to say.  

“I think he made several points on implementing economy and state government and expanding programming,” he said. “It was interesting.”

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