Parrett considers statewide office

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Senator may announce run for state ag commissioner next month

By Ben Sheroan

State Sen. Dennis Parrett faces no opposition in the Nov. 4 general election but he still may be campaigning a great deal this fall. The Elizabethtown Democrat is a likely candidate in the 2015 race for agriculture commissioner.

“I am exploring the opportunity to do that,” he said.

His ambition began to crystalize last week at the Kentucky State Fair’s annual country ham breakfast. With most of the state’s agriculture leaders and political minds on hand, Parrett said he took the opportunity to assess his potential success in a statewide race.

“It was wonderful,” he said. “The encouragement was just amazing.”

He followed up that State Fair litmus test with a family meeting Sunday at his rural home off Thomas Road.

A formal announcement concerning his candidacy could come early next month. If he chooses to move ahead with a bid for the ag commissioner’s position, he said it is essential he begins organizational work and campaigning soon.

Parrett, who farms more than 500 acres in Hardin County and operates Cecilia Farm Service, will win a second four-year term in the state Senate in the general election. His duties during the legislative session will occupy much of January through March and even spill into April, he said, which would leave little time before the primary election on May 19.

Parrett would be

the second Democrat to enter the race. Jean-Marie Lawson Spann, 36, a two-term state president of the Kentucky Young Democrats, announced her interest in the position in June. She works in marketing, hosts a weekly agriculture-based radio show and worked for her family-owned farm equipment company.

In her announcement, she was endorsed by Billy Ray Smith of Bowling Green, who served from 1996 to 2003 as agriculture commissioner. Throughout that eight-year tenure, Parrett served in an advisory capacity as an appointed member of the Kentucky Agricultural Council. He also later was on the board of the state FFA Foundation when Smith worked as its executive director.

Parrett said, if elected, he would pattern himself after Smith by being a commissioner interested in all aspects of the agriculture community and the best interests of the state.

In an interview Wednesday, Smith expressed “high regards” for Parrett who he called a “fine community servant.” Smith said he finds himself in a political quandary between two cherished acquaintances.

“With either one, Kentucky would be fortunate,” Smith said.

No Republican candidates have made their interest known. James Comer of Monroe County, the current commissioner, plans to run for governor on the Republican ticket.

Parrett had long been involved in community service before defeating incumbent Elizabeth Tori for the 10th District Senate seat in 2010. He served as president of the local Pork Producers, served as a member and chairman of the Hardin County Conservation District and was on the initial Hardin County Board of Adjustments. His activities include church, school and community volunteerism, including a visible role with the annual Cecilia Days celebration.

A 1977 graduate of West Hardin High School, Parrett did not grow up on a farm. After his father, Denver, retired from the military, Parrett got his first look at agricultural life as a teenager “and I fell in love with it,” he said.

He credits his agriculture teacher Hezzie Williams with convincing him to attend college. After one year at Elizabethtown Community College, Parrett transferred to the University of Kentucky. To pay his way through school, he lived and worked on UK’s Coldstream Farm in a job arranged by Williams.

Upon graduating, he returned to Hardin County as an Extension agent for agriculture. In 1988, he went to work in the private sector for Southern States and later managed Cecilia Farm Service before becoming a partner in the business.

Richard Preston of Glendale, who raises corn, soybeans and wheat on 2,500 acres, has known Parrett since they both were active in the local Young Farmers organization.

He thinks Parrett’s diverse experience makes him an ideal candidate for agriculture commissioner. He said Parrett understands production agriculture, the supply side of the business, vendor needs and has Extension Service experience as well.

“He’s done a lot of things in agriculture,” Preston said. “He’s worn a lot of hats.”

Preston also praised Parrett’s managerial and people skills and his work ethic and said learning more about how Frankfort operates as a state senator is an asset that will help him forge compromises.

“I think his experience in the Senate has really helped him,” Prest­on said. “But he still manages to keep the same commonsense values that he brought with him. He hasn’t bowed to pressure.”

Ben Sheroan can be reached at 270-505-1764 or bsheroan@thenewsenterprise.com.