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Two Tangle for W.Va. Agriculture Commissioner

October 21, 2012
By JOSELYN KING - Political Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

CHARLESTON - West Virginians will choose a new commissioner of agriculture on Nov. 6.

Candidates in the race are Republican Kent Leonhardt and current state Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas.

- Leonhardt, of Fairview, W.Va., is a retired lieutenant colonel with 21 years experience in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Leonhardt and wife, Shirley operate a 380-acre farm in western Monongalia County.

"Our economic situation is better than most states related to the year-to-year budget," Leonhardt said. " The governor has asked each department within the state to prepare for a 7 percent decrease in their agency's budget. The very agency I will be directing is not only facing shortages of state funds but also federal funding.

"The reality is that budgets are getting smaller and we have to lead the agencies in a direction that can withstand decreasing budgets."

He noted his farm lies on the eastern edge of the current gas drilling boom area.

"I see the changing rural economy every time I leave my farm to obtain farm supplies or campaign," Leonhardt said. "The legislation passed last December appears to be a major step in the right direction, but in reality I think it is too early to tell.

"The DEP has not staffed up to handle the workload and much of the legislation has not been implemented. An area that does need addressed is with taxation of the well pad infrastructure. I am hearing that our State Tax Department is interested in collecting revenue from these industrial sites. The problem as I see it is the tax burden lies with the surface owner who, in most cases across West Virginia, does not receive any yearly income from the wells."

- Helmick, of Marlinton, W.Va., did not return requests for comment.

He was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1988, and appointed to the Senate the following year to fill an unexpired term. Helmick is a graduate of Marshall University and the West Virginia Institute of Technology.

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