Kentucky Politics

Former Republican state Rep. Jonathan Shell has announced he will run to be Kentucky’s next agriculture commissioner in 2023.

Shell is 33 years old and was the youngest person elected to the state House of Representatives in 2012. He was tasked with recruiting Republican candidates ahead of the party’s historic takeover of the House in 2016 and became the chamber’s majority floor leader, a powerful leadership position.

In a statement, Shell said he wants to “defend agriculture and conservative Kentucky values on every front.”

“This will be an aggressive campaign built on homegrown values I’ve learned on the family farm. I’m pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-growth and pro-farmer, and I live these values every day,” Shell said.

The agriculture commissioner’s duties don’t generally involve defending Second Amendment rights or anti-abortion policies, but the position can be a springboard for higher office.

Current Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles is term-limited and is exploring a possible run for governor.

Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner is in charge of promoting the state’s agriculture industry and has regulatory duties like inspecting 60,000 gas pumps across the state and issuing hemp growing licenses.

This year, the Republican-led legislature expanded the commissioner’s powers, giving them authority to appoint all 13 members on the State Board of Agriculture and a majority of seats on the state fair board—powerful agencies that manage multi-million-dollar budgets.

Shell is from Lancaster in Garrard County and represented House District 71 from 2013 until 2019.

He was one of the authors of a controversial pension bill that sparked thousands of teachers to protest in Frankfort in 2018. That year, he lost reelection to his House seat during the primary election to Travis Brenda, a Republican teacher who campaigned against the pension bill.

Kentucky’s senior U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell tapped Shell to chair his 2020 reelection campaign, in which he defeated Democratic rival Amy McGrath by about 20 percentage points.

Shell is currently the owner of State Solutions LLC, a political consulting company.

Rep. Richard Heath, a Republican from Mayfield, has also announced he will run for agriculture commissioner in 2023. He narrowly lost to current commissioner Ryan Quarles during the 2015 Republican primary.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.