Monongalia County Republican Kent Leonhardt has filed to challenge longtime West Virginia state Sen. Larry Edgell for his seat representing the 2nd District.
Leonhardt, who lost a close contest with Walt Helmick in the 2012 race for state agriculture commissioner, said he was encouraged by his strong showing in that race, and by a number of people who approached him afterward and told him he could do some good in the Legislature.
"First, we've got to get some jobs. ... We keep losing population, and the population we're losing is the young people," Leonhardt said. "We've got to have a reason for young people to stay in West Virginia."
The 2nd District includes parts of Marshall, Monongalia, Marion and Gilmer counties as well as all of Wetzel, Tyler, Doddridge, Ritchie and Calhoun counties. Edgell, D-Wetzel, filed to run for re-election on Jan. 13. Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, occupies the district's other seat.
Leonhardt pointed to the district's geographical boundaries, which have expanded following each of the previous two censuses, as evidence of the area's population loss.
"That just tells me that the current people in power just aren't doing the job," he said.
He said the poor condition of the state's roads - and those in his district in particular - need to be a priority. But he added lawmakers need to take a hard look at the Department of Transportation and whether it is being run efficiently before increasing taxes to fund needed improvements, as has been suggested by the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways.
"Look at the whole structure before you start raising taxes on people," Leonhardt said. "People need to know that it's being managed properly in the first place."
Leonhardt said he supports the growth of the natural gas industry, but as a farmer he also understands the need to preserve the environment and ensure landowners receive fair compensation. He also supports tort reform, noting West Virginia needs a legal climate "set up to where businesses aren't afraid to come here."
"We need to go talk to other states that have had success" reforming their court system, Leonhardt said. "There's a lot of good ideas out there."
Leonhardt and his wife Shirley operate a 380-acre farm in western Monongalia County, near Fairview, where they raise sheep, cattle and goats and sell hay.
He is a retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps, where his duties included coordinating operations between all branches the military, the Department of Defense and other agencies.
He holds a bachelor's degree in wildlife management from the University of Missouri as well as a master's degree in business management from Central Michigan University, and also owned a number of retail stores prior to 2006.