Del. Matt Lohr is leaving his job in the General Assembly to take a new job in Gov. Bob McDonnell's administration. McDonnell appointed Lohr as the next Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Tuesday.
Lohr is a three-term Republican Delegate representing Harrisonburg and sections of Rockingham County.
"It's a tremendous honor," says Lohr. "I love agriculture. My whole live I've really fought hard to improve agriculture and this is a dream come true for me."
Lohr will start the new job May 1. He will resign from the House of Delegates April 30.
Lohr says, in the coming days, candidates from both parties will likely come forward seeking his seat. Then each party will chose its candidate either using a primary or a mass meeting of party members.
Lohr says the special election to choose his replacement will be set up by McDonnell, likely in the summer.
Leaving in April means Lohr will miss out on some of the decisions the General Assembly still has to make this year.
"The governor's talked about calling a special session later this year for transportation and even a special session to deal with some government reform pieces," says Lohr. "That will take place probably later in the summer or fall. Hopefully my replacement will be in place for those sessions, but it won't be me."
Lohr is looking forward to his new position, in which he will direct 500 employees. He already has some preliminary plans about what he will focus on with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
He says his top priorities will include developing markets for Virginia's farm products both in the United States and abroad, limiting the burdens of new environmental regulations on farmers, and keeping the food supply safe. Lohr says the most important task will be keeping farmers in business.
"I want to make sure that we can create jobs in agriculture and really strengthen rural Virginia," says Lohr. "It goes back to jobs again. So many of our farmers are part-time farmers, which means they rely on off-farm employment."
Lohr was born and raised on a farm in Rockingham County. He has a degree from Virginia Tech in agriculture education, and he has served twice as the president of the Rockingham County Farm Bureau.
Lohr will continue to live in the Valley. He says he will work out of the VDACS lab in Harrisonburg part of the week, and commute to Richmond Tuesday through Thursday.
Speaking about the appointment, McDonnell notes, “Matt understands the importance of agriculture to Virginia’s economy. Virginia’s farms don’t just grow food; they also provide critically important jobs and revenue for our Commonwealth. I want an aggressive, experienced leader to head up the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It is a crucial agency to the future prosperity of our state. Matt’s background in farming, his service in Richmond as a delegate, and his commitment to the citizens of the Commonwealth make him the perfect individual to take on this important position. I thank Matt for agreeing to continue to serve Virginia in this new capacity.”
“Matt will be an outstanding VDACS Commissioner,” says Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd P. Haymore, who is also a former VDACS Commissioner. “With his extensive farming and agricultural-related regulatory experience, he will bring a unique perspective to the post. His background will also complement the domestic and global marketing and development efforts that Gov. McDonnell and I are focusing on to help create jobs and more opportunities for our agricultural and forestry producers.”
On Tuesday, Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) thanked Lohr for his service to the citizens of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County in the House of Delegates and congratulated him on his appointment.
Obenshain says, "It has been a great pleasure to work with Matt over the past five years. He has distinguished himself not only as a legislator, but also through the faith and courage that he and his family have personified in their difficult personal journey over that period of time. I have developed a close friendship with Matt and Andrea Lohr, and they are two of the finest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
"We will miss Matt's presence in the community, and I know he will be missed in the House of Delegates, but our loss is the Commonwealth's gain. This appointment is a great honor and it is well deserved. Matt will be a great leader of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. His whole career has revolved around agricultural service and this is a great opportunity to continue that service. I look forward to working with Matt in this new capacity and am very happy for Matt and his family."