Helmick overcomes obstacles to win Agriculture Commission race - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Helmick overcomes obstacles to win Agriculture Commission race

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Walt Helmick will serve West Virginia as the new head of the Department of Agriculture.

Helmick was elected as the state's commissioner of agriculture, taking over for longtime Commissioner Gus Douglass, who served in the Department of Agriculture since 1964 and is retiring. Democrat Helmick edged out Republican Kent Leonhardt 52 percent to 48 percent to win the race, according to unofficial vote tallies.

The May primary for agriculture commissioner was a little hairy. Mike Teets, the only Republican running for the position, dropped out two months before the primary. The Republican Party selected Leonhardt, a Morgantown farmer and former U.S. Marine, to run in Teets' place.

Helmick also ran into trouble. West Virginia code requires the agriculture commissioner to be a "practical farmer." Although Helmick owns a water bottling company he says qualifies as a farm, the issue was taken to court. Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom ruled earlier this year that Helmick could run, saying the "practical farmer" clause in state code is outdated.

Helmick said he hopes the transition will be an easy one.

"My family and I appreciate the hard work everyone put in during this campaign," Helmick said. "I look forward now to putting together a transition team and working with outgoing Commissioner Gus Douglass and his staff on a smooth transition. I also congratulate my opponent, Kent Leonhardt, on a hard-fought race."

Helmick represented Pocahontas County in the West Virginia Senate for several years and was chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.