GEORGETOWN, Ky. — Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles kicked off his campaign for governor with a rally for supporters Wednesday.
“It’s time for a new governor in the commonwealth of Kentucky,” he told the crowd outside the Scott County Courthouse in Georgetown, where he was born.
Quarles filed to run last month, but this was his first public campaign rally. He touted the endorsements of 53 state lawmakers and county judge-executives.
“Ryan Quarles has demonstrated his honesty and his transparency, and he has earned our trust,” Scott County Judge-Executive Joe Pat Covington said. “That’s why we’re here today.”
Quarles has been the Agriculture Commissioner since 2016 and was a state lawmaker for five years before that.
“I’ve spent seven years of my life criss-crossing Kentucky, and we’re going to have an old-fashioned, grassroots campaign that’s focused on building coalitions, county by county,” he said, “A peoples-first campaign that’s based on making sure that we leave no stone left unturned.”
Several other Republicans have already announced campaigns for governor, including Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Kentucky State Auditor Mike Harmon, and more announcements are expected soon.
Quarles said he isn’t worried about how the primary will unfold just yet, though.
“For me, I don’t lose sleep at night about who’s in and who’s out of this race,” he said. “For me, all I can do is put my best foot forward, work hard every day, say a prayer, and then leave it all out on the field with a full effort come May of next year.”
Kentucky Democratic Party chairperson Colmon Elridge defended current Gov. Andy Beshear in a statement responding to Quarles’ campaign launch, while also criticizing Quarles’ track record.
“Despite his more than a decade as a self-serving and self-promoting politician, Kentuckians would struggle to list a single accomplishment from Ryan Quarles,” Elridge said. “Quarles bungled his rollout for governor, showing he isn’t even ready to run for governor, much less serve as governor.”
Elridge said he also expects the GOP primary to be “extreme, nasty, and expensive” next year.
On The Issues
Quarles spent much of his speech Wednesday criticizing various aspects of Gov. Andy Beshear’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just because we 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.
Quarles said Kentucky would have had better outcomes if he worked with others, including Republican lawmakers and statewide officeholders.
Quarles called himself “pro-life” and “pro-gun” during his speech, staking out traditional Republican views on abortion and gun laws.
He said he favors a law the legislature passed this year requiring armed school resource officers in every school, but when it comes to tighter restrictions on gun ownership, he said he favors more education on safe gun use over anything else.
“I’m a gun owner myself,” he said. “I also empathize with the issues going on across the United States right now, but I also think that we need to defend our rights, and liberties, and personal freedoms that are enshrined in the United States Constitution.”
When it comes to abortion, Quarles said he wants to see more resources dedicated to Kentucky’s adoption and foster care systems.
He didn’t directly say whether he supports Kentucky’s trigger law that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, but he’s watching what the U.S. Supreme Court does.
“I think that as a country, whenever the Supreme Court issues its decision, that we need to make sure we have a legislature and a governor that’s going to protect the unborn,” he said.
Quarles also said he favors phasing out the state’s income tax as well, and would collaborate with lawmakers to see it happen. GOP lawmakers pushed through a half-percent income tax cut earlier this year that could phase out the state’s income tax entirely if the state brings in enough revenue.