Editorial By Chad Hobbs
The name Warren Beeler is so synonymous with agriculture in the state of Kentucky that you would be hard pressed to find a farmer in the commonwealth that doesn’t know his name. He is “Mr. Agriculture” just as much as this is “the Bluegrass State.” After serving most of his life as either an agriculture extension specialist with the University of Kentucky, 17 years in various roles at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, and the last 4 years and 9 months as the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy; he announced this past weekend that this Friday will be his last day.
Though Beeler was professional, as always, in his announcement, his termination by Governor Andy Beshear was seen as a slap in the face to Kentucky agriculture by everyone from Kentucky Department of Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles down to farmers here in Meade County and across the state. The fact that Beshear chose to make such a move in the midst of the Kentucky State Fair added insult to injury.
For over 40 years, Beeler has judged livestock shows on the local and state level across 42 of the 50 United States. To pigeon hole his role and impact on agriculture to just livestock rings would be the understatement of a lifetime, but by being recognized as one of the greatest swine geneticists in the U.S. and one of the greatest judges in the ring, it was definitely his wheel house. For those outside of agriculture, the termination of Beeler during the state fair is the equivalent of giving Michael Jordan or Larry Bird their walking papers prior to the NBA Finals back in the 80’s and 90’s. That’s the seismic equivalence of Beshear’s ridiculous bombshell that sent shockwaves across the state’s ag industry last Saturday.
House Speaker David Osborne released the following statement, “It is extremely frustrating to hear that the Governor has chosen to remove Warren Beeler from his role in the Office of Agricultural Policy. Mr. Beeler is well-respected by members of both parties and has served multiple administrations – both Republican and Democrat – throughout his career. Warren’s trademark has been his ability to forge partnerships with agricultural and civic leaders across the state, and his commitment to fostering leadership in future leaders. He is an outstanding example of servant leadership and made it his mission to take the politics out of agricultural policy. By taking this step in the midst of a pandemic, the Governor shows either a lack of comprehension or an outright disregard of the unprecedented challenges our farm families and rural Kentuckians face today.”
Former Agriculture Commissioner James Coomer echoed these sentiments when he released this statement, “Sad to learn that Gov. Beshear terminated Warren Beeler as Governor’s Office of Ag Policy Director. Below is the press release from 2013 from my first month on the job as KY Ag Commissioner. I wanted to have the best Ag team possible, regardless of political party affiliation. Agriculture is nonpartisan. Warren was a mid-level Democrat merit employee hired by a Democrat Ag Commissioner. I knew Warren and knew he had unlimited potential, so I promoted him and gave him the authority to travel KY and be the face of Agriculture. Warren did that, earned the respect of not just farmers but every Kentuckian who ever heard him speak. I then recommended to Gov-elect Matt Bevin to hire Warren to be his GOAP Director and he was a great director. Warren not only made a positive difference for Agriculture, but he inspired a new generation of Ag leaders.”
So what did Coomer’s press release sayin 2013? Well most of it echoes everything that has already been said but here is an excerpt: “I have known and admired Warren Beeler since my days as an agriculture student at Western Kentucky University,” said Comer. “He is one of the most respected leaders in animal agriculture, and I am honored to work with him to ensure that everything we do at KDA is most beneficial to our family farmers and agri-businesses.”
Beeler is one of the few people in a political post who has returned state money back to Meade County in the last two years. It was just reported in this paper a few weeks ago about the $63,873 in CAIP funds that were approved to come to this county, through direct oversight by his office. He was also involved in the Frankfort circle, working with local farmers and leaders to return a granary back to our Ohio River shoreline. Many of our youth or former youth have not only had Beeler as a judge of their livestock, but also as a great teacher in the ring. They future leaders in the agriculture industry have listened as he addressed them at events such as the FFA State Convention.
Political appointees are a mixed basket at best. When Beshear replaced a Bevin appointee running the state’s OSHA department who was a former football player with no experience in the field for a woman who had spent her career working in the department, it should have been applauded. As the Gene Hobbs Tragedy series in this paper showed, KY OSHA needs serious reform. Too often political appointees are favors versus qualified individuals, and they should be pulled from the system by their roots. Removing Warren Beeler, however, was the exact opposite of that sentiment. Removing Warren Beeler was a political hit job that removed the most qualified man in the state for the job. Unfortunately the state of agriculture in Kentucky will struggle to fill this void. When the Governor terminates the most qualified man for the job, it’s hard not to wonder what favors he will “owe” that will effect who he chooses to fill this vital post. There will be a void for sure.