Mike Leonhard is hoping to become a two-term commissioner, again. Rex Journay is looking to unseat the longtime local government fixture in his first run for office.

They will square off June 2 in the Republican primary for the nomination for Jay County Commissioner representing the north district.

Leonhard, 72, rural Portland, said he decided to make another run for office in order to carry through some of his initiatives already underway. Specifically he does not want to see Jay County Retirement Center close and wants to see progress on converting stone roads to hard surface. A 1966 graduate of Portland High School, he is a Vietnam veteran and retired contractor. He served as Jay County Commissioner from 1997 through 2004 and reclaimed the office again in 2017, having been on Jay County Council in between.

Journay, a 68-year-old rural Bryant resident, said he decided to run for office in part to continue the county’s progress as an area leader and to seek a new challenge in his retirement. A 1970 graduate of Bellmont High School who went on to graduate from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in agronomy in 1974 and Wisconsin School of Banking in 1995. He had a 42-year career in banking before retiring from First Bank of Berne in 2018. He is a member of The Portland Foundation’s Board of Directors and was a member of the Jay County Development Corporation Board for 30 years and the Purdue Extension board.

Leonhard noted that commissioners have sought to follow state-level recommendations in handling COVID-19, with common sense as their guide. Like the candidates for the south district commissioner seat, Journay said he’s satisfied the current commissioners have been looking out for the best interests of the county during the pandemic.

In addressing what he feels are the most important issues facing Jay County, Journay focused on the potential problems that are expected to come because of the impact of coronavirus.

“We’re probably looking at lower tax revenues coming from the state,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a tighter budget. We’re going to have to look and see where we can make cuts and hopefully not hurt things overall.

“Tax revenues are going to be a problem.”

He also noted the importance of broadband internet accessibility.

For Leonhard, it was growing the business and infrastructure base that topped the list. He noted the importance of bringing in tax dollars to pay for things like Jay Emergency Medical Service and maintaining Jay County Courthouse.

“I think the most important issue is it would be nice to get some more businesses and infrastructure coming into the county,” he said. “Infrastructure is of vital importance in this county.”

Leonhard positioned himself as a strong supporter of Jay County Retirement Center, which has faced financial challenges. He said he’d like to bring in more veterans to help keep the facility in place.

“I don’t want to see the retirement center shut down,” he said.

Journay said if the retirement center is unable to support itself financially, the county should look at whether or not it should stay in operation.

“The county home needs to be at least run so it’s at a break-even,” he said. “If it’s not at a break-even, I’m not sure that it’s something that we can afford to have in this county.”

Both candidates expressed support for wind and solar farms in the county, noting they have brought in revenue in the form of taxes and economic development funds. Leonhard said he respects those who are against the facilities but that commissioners must look at what is best for the whole county. Journay pointed to the road improvements that follow wind farm construction and said in his experience as a banker land and home prices have not decreased.

As for the economic development funds that come along with such operations, Leonhard said he’d take them on a case-by-case basis as he did with those from Bluff Point Wind Energy Center. He expressed support for using them for initiatives that will bring either business or tourism to the community.

“Jay County Fairgrounds brings I don’t know how many thousands of visitors to Jay County each year from the bike show to the swap meet to the Tri-State gas engine show, and now we’ve got the demolition derbies coming in,” said Leonhard.

“Plus we’ve got the Jay County Fair.”

Economic development funds from the Bluff Point project were used to help build the new Farmer’s Building at the fairgrounds.

“To me, that was money well spent,” Leonhard added.

Journay said he would focus on making sure that economic development funds are used for their original intent — improving infrastructure and spurring economic development.

“We’ve kind of robbed from those in the past to cover other needs,” he said. “Any further funds we get from the solar farms or (Bitter Ridge) Wind Farm, I would direct them mostly for economic development, whether that’s infrastructure, new roads, sewer, something like that. I think that’s the first thing we need to be looking at.

“After that, if we have other things in the county that we really need … then I would be fine with that.”

Both candidates also expressed support for the county’s effort to earn the Stellar Communities designation.

Addressing other issues, Leonhard said he feels its important for a commissioner to know the county’s roads, bridges and waterways, as well as being on top of what its surveyor and highway crews are working on.

Journay said he’d like for commissioners to review the county’s no-truck ordinance again, saying he feels its overly burdensome to farmers. He said he understands the need to keep heavy truck traffic heading to POET Biorefining-Portland off of county road 200 South and to Jay County Landfill off of county road 400 South, but would like to find a way to be more farmer-friendly.

He leaned on his experience in banking and farming when as reasons Jay County voters should choose him at the polls.

“I think I’m qualified,” he said. “I think running a county is no different than running a business … and I think I’m qualified to handle that end of it.

“And also the fact that I spent 30 years on the economic development board and I understand a lot of what’s going on. I feel that I would be an excellent commissioner.”

As for why voters should grant him another term in office, Leonhard kept it simple and brief.

“Because they know that I work for Jay County,” he said.