GOP governor hopeful Quarles talks ‘bold ideas’

Published 9:32 am Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles visits with Republican voters, election candidates and Warren County residents Friday at the Southern Kentucky Lincoln Day Dinner at the National Corvette Museum. (Grace Ramey/Bowling Green Daily News)

On a typical day on the campaign trail, Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles can be found driving a big red truck, stopping in every corner of the commonwealth.

He shows up to Dollar Generals and Cattlemen’s Association meetings in jeans and boots, ready to meet people and shake hands. He’s approachable, he said – “the grassroots candidate with my own conservative brand.”

Quarles, who is vying for the Republican nomination for governor this May, said that his path to success against his main challengers – Daniel Cameron, Kentucky attorney general, and Kelly Craft, former Canada and United Nations ambassador in the Trump administration – is on the ground, through rural Kentucky.

Before becoming agricultural commissioner in 2016, Quarles served in the Kentucky House of Representatives from 2010-15.

He’s visited each of Kentucky’s 120 counties at least once on the campaign trail, and more in his eight years as agricultural commissioner. He said that, unlike Cameron and Craft, he is “authentic Kentucky,” not attached to national political figures.

“I’m the farm kid that countless working class Kentuckians can relate to – people who have jobs where they come home with dirt on their boots or grease on their elbows – and I’m their candidate, because I’ve earned it,” Quarles said.

A recent Fox 56/Emerson College poll of 900 Kentucky Republicans very likely to vote in the May 16 primary placed Quarles solidly in third place with 14.9% of poll respondents saying that if the primary were held today, they would vote for Quarles, compared to 30.1% for Cameron and 23.9% for Craft.

A large number – 20.7% – said they were undecided.

The poll also found that 39% of respondents had a favorable view of Quarles, 15% had an unfavorable view, 25% were unsure and 21% had never heard of him.

Cameron and Craft had higher favorable percentages – 63% and 47%, respectively.

Quarles is not discouraged by these results. In fact, he sees it as a win that his campaign hasn’t spent any money on media yet and still remains competitive in a “three-way race for the Republican nomination.”

With less than a month to go until the primary, Quarles said his team is confident they will peak at the right time.

He’s got a robust media plan ready for launch and literally hundreds of endorsements from elected officials, including over a quarter of county judge-executives, a hundred-plus magistrates and state legislators including Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, and Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland.

If elected, Quarles would be the first Millennial Kentucky governor. He’s more popular among Republicans under 50, according to the Fox 56/Emerson College poll.

Quarles said he thinks younger people like him more because they see him as a problem solver, more focused on policy than Democrat versus Republican.

“I think there’s a lot of people my age that are tired of us ranking low in just about every ranking that we should be high in,” he said.

“… I think that the younger population views our stances on issues as attractive because they know I want to fix things, and that I’m not a typical politician. I don’t come from a political family. My dad wasn’t governor. I don’t come from independent wealth.”

Like other top Republicans in the race, Quarles supports some of the hot topics of this year’s legislative session, including more parental involvement in education and bans on gender reassignment surgeries for minors.

He also has several “bold ideas for Kentucky” that have received less limelight, some of which are posted on his campaign website.

First, he wants to reform the adoption and foster care system, by streamlining the often multi-year application process, recruiting more social workers to reduce high caseloads and partnering with faith-based communities “that may already have people wanting to help.”

Second, he sees an opportunity for Kentucky to use its soybean crop to become the aviation industry’s main source of sustainable fuel.

Third, Quarles has a plan to make eastern Kentucky a tourist destination by taking advantage of its natural beauty and assets.

“We don’t need to be Gatlinburg, but we need to piece together what’s already there,” he said. “There’s trail riding, motorsports – which in a lot of states you can’t do – ziplining, hunting, elk viewing nature preserves, etc.”

Fourth, Quarles said that he could be the first governor with a “global perspective,” with a refocus on international trade of Kentucky’s already internationally-known brands – bourbon, thoroughbreds and chicken.

If elected, he would work to restore international trade offices in Japan, Germany, UK and South America to sell Kentucky around the world.

“When you go around the world and say you’re from Kentucky, they ask you three things – horses, bourbon and Col. Sanders,” Quarles said. ‘’No one else has that leapfrog advantage, and we need to embrace that because our state needs to live up to its potential.”