GEORGETOWN, Ky. — Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles stressed his rural roots and pledged to be a unifier Wednesday as he formally launched his 2023 campaign for Kentucky's governorship.
Quarles chose the courthouse square in his native Scott County in central Kentucky to begin presenting his agenda and touting his credentials to Bluegrass State voters. The event came about a month after Quarles announced he would seek Kentucky’s top political job next year.
“Only in America can a farm kid who grew up in the tobacco patch aspire to run for governor one day,” Quarles told a crowd of sun-drenched supporters.
He’s part of a growing list of candidates vying for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in what's shaping up as a fiercely competitive primary next spring.
Quarles touted his conservative credentials — including his opposition to abortion and support for gun-ownership rights. Like other Republicans, he condemned Beshear's COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and gatherings.
“Folks, just because you lived through a once-in-a-century pandemic doesn't mean our constitutional rights, individual liberties and freedoms should be tossed out the window,” he said.
Beshear, who is seeking a second term, maintains that his aggressive approach saved lives. His restrictions were in place mostly when COVID-19 vaccines were not available or not yet widely distributed — though lawmakers later severely limited his ability to respond when virus cases surged again. Beshear says his actions reflected guidance from the White House coronavirus task force when Republican Donald Trump was president.
In laying out his agenda, Quarles promised Wednesday to finish the job of extending broadband access to underserved urban and rural areas of Kentucky. He vowed to fight violent crime, tackle the state's drug abuse problems and push for a tax code that makes it easier to start businesses.
He criticized Beshear for his policy battles with the state's Republican-dominated legislature — which led to some court fights once GOP lawmakers overrode his vetoes of contested legislation. Quarles vowed to bring more unity to government if he's elected governor.
“Our commonwealth so desperately needs unity during historic times of division, when vetoes instead of cooperation put a black eye on Frankfort,” Quarles said.
State Democratic Party Chair Colmon Elridge responded by labeling Quarles a “self-serving and self-promoting politician.” After years in office, Kentuckians “would struggle to list a single accomplishment” by Quarles, Elridge said in a statement.
Recent polling shows Beshear remains popular in GOP-trending Kentucky.
The governor has touted his stewardship of Kentucky's economy, pointing to the state's record-setting economic development pace for job creation and business investments. He has landed the state’s two largest economic development projects ever — both battery plants.
Quarles, a former state lawmaker in his second term as agriculture commissioner, has long been seen as a gubernatorial contender. He’ll try to capitalize on his name recognition across rural GOP strongholds — a potential advantage he stressed in direct appeals to working-class Kentuckians.
“If President Trump taught us anything, it is this: Those who have been ignored by politicians or looked down upon by the ruling liberal elite will no longer be ignored,” he said.
Quarles' campaign rolled out a list of 53 state lawmakers and county judge-executives who have endorsed his candidacy, the start of what could become a strong grassroots effort.
Others already in the governor’s race on the GOP side include Attorney General Daniel Cameron, state Auditor Mike Harmon and retired attorney Eric Deters. Several other prominent Republicans are considering bids for governor.
Looking ahead to the crowded primary, Quarles vowed to follow Ronald Reagan’s so-called “Eleventh Commandment” not to speak ill of fellow Republicans.
“Running for office shouldn't be about who has the biggest insults, but about who has the best ideas,” he said.
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