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Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger says he is feeling a call to go back to his roots.
Some may have been surprised when Rothenburger announced last week his intention to run for Commissioner of Agriculture, the post currently being held by Richie Farmer, with the announcement coming so soon after he expressed a desire to “explore” the possibility of seeking the governor’s seat.
But Rothenburger said Tuesday that although he holds both offices in great esteem, having been born and raised on a Shelby County dairy farm, agriculture is where his heart is.
“I think both of them are imperative to the commonwealth of Kentucky, but when you’re looking at agriculture, you’re looking at over a billion-dollar-a-year industry with countless jobs, promotion of the commonwealth and the commodities that we produce that we send out of the commonwealth to feed not only other states, but other countries as well,” he said. “It is truly one of the most important positions in state government, I think equal to the office of governor.”
Rothenburger, a Republican, said another thing that influenced his decision was the declaration of state Senate President David Williams (R-Burkesville) to run for governor with Farmer as his lieutenant governor.
“When I first looked at the office of governor, there was some question as to whether the Republican Party was going to have some good candidates and exactly who were they?” he said. “I think that picture kind of cleared up here last week with the Williams-Farmer ticket coming out, and I also had an opportunity to talk to Phil Moffett, a businessman from Louisville whose running with Mike Harmon, a representative out of the Danville/Boyle County area. So the Republican Party has two strong tickets now.”
He added that he decided to run for agriculture commissioner because it would be perfect for him.
“My true passion is agriculture, and if you look at my record, I was raised on a dairy farm, with beef cattle, tobacco and, of course, grain, wheat and corn,” he said. “And I still raise beef cattle and have a cow/calf operation and raise hay on the farm.”
Jennifer Decker, Republican Party chair in Shelby County, agreed with Rothenburger’s choice.
“I think Rob would be a perfect fit as Commissioner of Agriculture,” she said. “He’s a long-time farmer and a talented executive. He has a first-hand understanding of farming issues and a firm grasp of administrative procedures. Kentucky would be will served by someone with Rob’s experience managing the Department of Agriculture.”
Mayor Tom Hardesty, a Democrat, echoed Decker’s thoughts about Rothenburger’s choice.
“I think he would make a great one,” he said. “He comes from a background of deep faming roots, and I think he would do a great job, especially with his knowledge of government.”
Rothenburger has served as county judge-executive since 2003. Before that, he was Shelbyville Fire Chief, a post from which he retired in 2001. He said switching gears from fire chief to county judge-executive has given him a more rounded wealth of experience.
“I think agriculture is becoming very diversified, and it’s going to take a very diversified leader to be in that office,” he said, “and I thing my diversity, coming from local government and an agricultural background, as well as being involved with many groups throughout Kentucky, would be a great benefit, not only to the Department of Agriculture, but also to the residents of the commonwealth.”
County Clerk Sue Carol Perry said Rothenburger would not have to step down as judge-executive just to file to run for agriculture commissioner. “If he wins, he would, of course [have to resign], but not just to file,” Petty said.
And Rothenburger said he wants to emphasize that he does not intend to step down as county judge until and unless he is elected to the other post.
“I will remain at my post until I win the election next year, but right now, I will continue to do my job as county judge executive and any campaigning that I do will be on nights and weekends,” he said.
Perry said that if Rothenburger should win the agriculture seat, it would be up to the governor to appoint another judge-executive for Shelby County. She said she is unsure whether that individual would serve out Rothenburger’s term or if a special election would have to be held.
Rothenburger said it’s his opinion that farmers have some of the strongest work ethics around, because farm life is demanding, and meeting that challenge day in and day out builds character in a way nothing else can.
“That’s one thing I take great pride in, what I’ve learned through the years from my father and my grandfather,” he said.