FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Former state Rep. Jonathan Shell, who helped orchestrate Republicans' historic takeover of the Kentucky House, has announced he will run for state agriculture commissioner in 2023.
Shell, a former member of House leadership, is looking to relaunch a political career that was derailed in 2018 when he lost his reelection bid to the legislature in the GOP primary.
Shell, a fifth-generation farmer from Garrard County, promised to “defend agriculture and conservative Kentucky values on every front” in announcing his 2023 plans Wednesday.
“This campaign is about supporting farm families and ensuring that all Kentucky communities, from the most rural to the most urban, understand the importance of our agriculture industry," Shell said.
Current Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, a Republican in his second term, is considering a run for governor in 2023. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear intends to run for reelection.
Republican state Rep. Richard Heath, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, announced his bid for agriculture commissioner earlier this month.
Shell rose quickly through the ranks after being elected to the Kentucky House in 2012.
He was chosen by GOP leaders to spearhead the party's recruitment of House candidates for the 2016 election. Republicans took control of the chamber for the first time in nearly a century in that year's election — cementing GOP dominance of the legislature.
The following year, Shell joined House leadership as majority floor leader. Republicans passed a series of bills reflecting many of the party's long-held priorities, including anti-abortion legislation and a measure making it illegal to require workers to pay union dues to keep a job. But Shell was swept out of office in 2018 for his role in pension legislation that drew protests at the statehouse.
In a sign of his continued influence in the party, Shell served as chairman of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s successful reelection campaign in 2020.
If elected agriculture commissioner, Shell said he would build on the legacies of the past two commissioners — Quarles and James Comer — in supporting agriculture. Kentucky has a diversified farm economy led by poultry, corn, soybean, equine and cattle production.
Shell is the owner of State Solutions LLC, which provides strategic and public policy advising for various statewide organizations. He works on his family’s farm, Shell Farms and Greenhouses, in Garrard County, where they grow flowers, corn and pumpkins and raise cattle.