Tag Archives: Todd Staples

What’s with this agriculture commissioner?


There must be something about serving as Texas commissioner of agriculture that brings out the weirdness in some of those who hold the office.

Sid Miller is the guy in the office at the moment. He’s a Republican who seems to look for ways to make himself look silly. He makes goofy pronouncements, goes off on state-paid junkets and then spends public money on matters that should be financed out of his own pocket.

In a strange way he reminds me of another agriculture commissioner. Do you remember Jim Hightower? He served a single term as head of the agriculture department in the late 1980s. Rick Perry got elected to the office in 1990 and he was succeeded by Susan Combs, who then was succeeded by Todd Staples. Those three individuals managed to serve with a degree of decorum and dignity.

Hightower, though, was a jokester. The Democrat was quick with the quip and managed to say things just to get a laugh out of those who heard him say them.

Miller, though, is presenting some unusual problems.


As the Texas Tribune reports, Miller is making a spectacle of himself:

“Miller’s conduct in office has ranged from the cartoonish — revamping inspection stickers for the state’s more than 170,000 fuel pumps to more prominently feature his name — to the potentially criminal — allegedly bankrolling two out-of-state trips with public funds to receive what’s known as a ‘Jesus Shot’ and to compete in a rodeo.”

Miller won the office partly by campaigning as a fiscal conservative. So what does he do? He boosts the pay of top staff jobs.

He seems to look for ways to make headlines, to get his name out there. Remember how he lifted the state ban on deep fryers and soda machines? Why does an elected agriculture do something like that?

I much prefer that these folks simply do their job quietly. There’s no need to create spectacles.

The agriculture commissioner has a big job. The state has a gigantic farm and ranch community — and much of it exists out here on the High Plains.

Can’t this guy just promote the value of Texas’s myriad agricultural produces without being such a buffoon?


'Meatless Mondays' far from 'brainwashing'

I used to respect Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. Now he’s joining the right-wing shouting campaign that’s trying to suggest that a healthier school-lunch menu is somehow an “agenda-driven” campaign meant to deprive children of eating meat.

Media Matters — a liberal watchdog group that delights in torpedoing Fox News’s efforts to slant the news — is at it again.


Staples contends that a “Meatless Monday” program being tried in Texas public schools is part of a hidden agenda. He said those who promote such a thing actually intend to remove meat from the menu every single day. And he knows that … how? He doesn’t say in the Fox segment. He just makes the assertion. Don’t look for the Fox hosts to question him on how he knows such things.

He calls it “bad science.” Staples is wrong. Scientists and dietitians all around the world have developed mountains of data that demonstrate that including more fruits and veggies in your diet leads to healthier living. What in the world is wrong with any of this?

There’s nothing inherently sinister going on here. A single day of the week doesn’t constitute a pervasive campaign to rid the school systems’ lunch menus of meat.

Staples ought to know better. Of course, he isn’t about to say he does know better, because he’s going to join the tea party Republican chorus taking aim at those un-American liberals who intent on destroying our way of life.

I offer this brief commentary as a red-blooded American carnivore. I love red meat; the bloodier the better. I also consume my share of chicken and fish.

None of our school systems’ efforts to reduce childhood obesity alarms me.

It shouldn’t alarm the Texas agriculture commissioner, either.

Who will also-rans endorse for lt. gov.?

Jerry Patterson and Todd Staples are feeling a bit stung these days.

Patterson, the state land commissioner, and Staples, the Texas agriculture commissioner, finished out of the running in the four-man race for Texas lieutenant governor. But they both still might have something to say about who Texas Republicans should nominate in the May 27 runoff.


They talked to the Texas Tribune about their campaigns and their futures.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is facing state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston in the runoff to see who will run this fall against Democratic nominee state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio.

It’s going to be a bitter fight all the way to runoff voting day.

How might Patterson and/or Staples affect the outcome? They could endorse one of the two runoff foes.

My guess is that Dewhurst would get the nod, given that Patrick managed to anger Patterson and Staples with some pretty mean-spirited campaign ads during the primary.

What’s more, both the land commissioner and the agriculture commissioner have worked with Dewhurst as statewide elected officials. It’s kind of a clubby atmosphere among statewide officeholders.

Patrick could be seen as the fiery outsider in this foursome.

I don’t know what Patterson and Staples will do. I don’t know either of them well enough to predict how or whether they’ll make endorsements in this contest.

They’ll wait a suitable length of time before making their decisions, either because they don’t yet know what they’ll do or because they want to generate maximum political impact on this important contest.

Stay tuned.

Dewhurst about to take a huge fall … maybe

If the Texas Monthly blogger and editor Paul Burka is right, Texas is about to witness one of the more stunning political collapses in recent memory.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is in a runoff for his job with state Sen. Dan Patrick. The two Republicans finished at the top of a four-man primary field earlier this month. The runoff is set for May 27.

Burka thinks Dewhurst is toast.


If it comes to pass and Patrick wins the runoff, Dewhurst’s fall from the pinnacle will be felt and heard all across the state.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Dewhurst burst onto the state political scene when he was elected land commissioner in 1998. He parlayed that victory into a successful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2002. He then was going to bide his time while awaiting the retirement of one of our state’s U.S. senators. That opportunity came in 2012 when Kay Bailey Hutchison stepped aside.

Dewhurst then had his head handed to him by a young upstart named Ted Cruz, who took him to a runoff in the 2012 Republican primary and then defeated Dewhurst in the runoff. Cruz managed to outflank Dewhurst on the right and won the hearts and minds of the conservative wing of the GOP, which was enough to carry him to victory in the 2012 fall election.

Now, Dewhurst is in trouble again.

He has governed as a moderate. I guess, though, he took a vow never to be “Cruzed” again, so he’s staked out some tough positions on immigration, on public education funding, on the Affordable Care Act — and has looked totally uncomfortable trying to sell himself as a new incarnation.

The Dewhurst I’ve known and covered for years has been extremely detail-oriented and has managed to outwork just about everyone in state government. That was his big selling point.

Patrick then came along, finishing first in the primary and apparently is poised to win the GOP nomination.

I’m not sure how Dewhurst is going to pull this runoff out. The other two GOP primary candidates, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, haven’t endorsed anyone yet. Maybe their endorsement of Dewhurst could pull a few thousand votes into the incumbent’s column. Neither Patterson or Staples seem all that enamored of Patrick, who’s the fiery one of the bunch.

The mighty do fall hard in Texas. It’s looking as though the next big hitter just might be about to hit the deck.

Why vote for Merritt?

Tommy Merritt is facing a runoff for the Republican Party nomination for Texas agriculture commissioner; he’s facing Sid Miller on May 27.

Here’s the question: What has Merritt done to earn the job?

I am asking because in recent days I’ve gotten some campaign fliers at my house promoting Merritt’s candidacy to replace Todd Staples, who lost his bid to become the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor. The fliers, I hasten to add, have said nothing about what Merritt would do to promote Texas agriculture.

Instead, they talk about his commitment to the Second Amendment (the one that guarantees gun ownership), his belief that life begins at conception, his lengthy marriage, his “strong conservative values,” and some other stuff that has nothing to do with agriculture policy.

So, back to the question: Why does this guy deserve to be agriculture commissioner?

He’s not alone in promoting values and principles that have little or nothing to do with the nuts-and-bolts policy issues relating to his office.

Do you remember Jim Hightower, the goofy Democrat who held the office until losing in 1990 to Republican Rick Perry? He touted farmers’ markets as his answer to bolstering agriculture. I can’t remember what Perry bragged about. Republican Susan Combs argued for value-added product sales of commodities.

Now, we have Merritt — a former legislator — vowing to protect unborn children and fighting for Texans to keep their guns.

I haven’t gotten anything from Sid Miller in my mailbox. Maybe something will arrive in time for the runoff. If it does, it hope it says something — anything — about agriculture.

Creationism vs. Evolution: Where’s the conflict?

Three of the four Republicans running for lieutenant governor are tripping over each other in the rush to pander to the extreme right wing of their party.

The issue this time is creationism. Should it be taught in our state’s public schools? Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and state Sen. Dan Patrick say “yes.” Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson stopped short of that declaration.


They traveled to Waco the other day to debate among themselves. By golly, three-fourths of them are creationists. They believe in the biblical version of Earth’s creation and they want it taught in public schools.

Me? I think creationism should be taught in Sunday school, in church where people worship their faith — where I worship my faith.

Even though Patterson didn’t jump on the creationism bandwagon directly in Waco, he said this: “Show me where that’s in the Constitution, because it’s not in the Constitution. I see nothing wrong with standing up at least for a moment of silence, let those who wish to pray pray in their own faith. I see nothing wrong with having a prayer before a high school football game.”

Well, I believe the First Amendment is pretty clear that Congress shall make no laws establishing a state religion. I do agree with him, however, that prayer before a high school football game doesn’t violate the Constitution, if someone other than a public school administration calls for it.

Creationism is a tenet of one’s faith. Evolution is science, backed up by mountains of empirical evidence. One should be taught in church, the other should be taught in publicly funded school classrooms.

Here’s where it gets sticky, in my view. I do not see any contradiction in the two notions.

Creationism, according to my reading of the Bible, does not stipulate that God created the Universe in six calendar days.

Therefore, I do not see the contradiction between what Scripture tells us and what scientists have uncovered relating to the evolution of the universe.

Am I less of a believer in God than my friends who interpret Scripture differently? I think not.


Texas ballot just got hilarious

Texans will have no shortage of entertainment next year as the midterm election gets into full swing.

The latest bit of entertainment news to hit the Lone Star State is the pending announcement that Kinky Friedman will run next as a Democrat for state agriculture commissioner.


Is he a successful farmer and rancher? No. Does he have extensive agriculture business experience? Um, no. Does he sell livestock at auctions? Again, nope.

Friedman is a humorist, author, sometimes politician and philosopher. He’s run for Texas governor, as an independent and once sought the agriculture commissioner’s office as a Democrat just four years ago.

I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing him, back in 2006 when he ran for governor. He was so entertaining and engaging and, frankly, forthright with most of his answers that my boss suggested he might actually consider recommending him for the governor’s office. Kinky didn’t get our newspaper’s endorsement.

He says he’s running this time as a Democrat because of state Sen. Wendy Davis’s gubernatorial campaign. Friedman thinks Davis is going to breathe excitement in the party this coming election year and he wants to be a part of it.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether he’ll be able to articulate a serious and sensible agriculture policy for the state.

I will bet real money, however, that Kinky Friedman’s campaign promises will not be carbon copies of what we’ve heard from Todd Staples, Susan Combs or Rick Perry. I’m thinking he’ll sound more like the last true-blue character we’ve elected as agriculture commissioner, Jim Hightower.

Bring it, Kinky.

Immigration becoming signature Texas issue?

I am beginning to sense a centerpiece issue emerging in the race for Texas lieutenant governor.

The issue is immigration and it may reveal which of the four major Republican candidates for the state’s No. 2 elected office will become the most effective demagogue on it.


Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples is one of the Big Four. He served in the state Senate, representing an East Texas district. He has become entangled in a vote he reportedly cast in 2001 to allow immigrants to use foreign passports and birth certificates as valid identification to obtain a Texas driver’s license.

Staples says he doesn’t remember casting such a vote. Really, commissioner? If you did, then it’s on the record in some form.

He now says such allowances are a “grave mistake” and he opposes them.

The other three GOP big dogs — state Sen. Dan Patrick, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — also are running as quickly as they can from another issue: allowing those who came into Texas as children of those who entered the state illegally in-state tuition rates to attend public colleges and universities.

Patrick ripped that can of worms wide open when he said he is the “only candidate” to oppose such a thing. The other three pounced on him for that declaration; Patterson called him a “liar.” Dewhurst said he’s never supported in-state tuition for undocumented residents.

I happen to think these men are acting like disgusting demagogues on this issue. I believe granting such a waiver is humane and compassionate. So does Gov. Rick Perry, whose support for the waiver got him in trouble as he campaigned briefly for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

Immigration reform well might determine just how strong the tea party influence is within the Texas Republican Party. Dewhurst learned the hard way when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012 when he got “Cruzed” by the guy who beat him in the primary, Sen. Ted Cruz. Dewhurst, who I once thought was a serious and studious politician, is now turning hard right on immigration to avoid getting outflanked yet again.

Perhaps another signature issue will emerge. For now, I’m thinking it’s going to be immigration.

It’s going to get ugly.

Immigrants’ tuition becomes key issue

I am appalled at the four major Republican candidates for Texas lieutenant governor.

First, state Sen. Dan Patrick runs an ad alleging he is the “only” candidate for that office who opposes in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. Not true, say the other three.

The incumbent lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, says he’s never supported in-state tuition for these students; Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who served in the Senate and voted for the issue in 2001, now says he opposes it; Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has called Patrick a liar and says he never backed the issue.


These guys make me sick.

The only prominent Texas Republican who stands out on this issue is Gov. Rick Perry.

Perry and other immigration reformers have supported granting in-state tuition privileges to Texas high school graduates and college applicants who happened to have moved here as children of parents who came here illegally.

It wasn’t their fault that their parents entered the state without legal documentation. They merely grew up and came of age as Texans. They attended high school, they graduated and applied for entrance into a Texas college or university. They have been accepted and plan to continue their lives as productive residents of the only place they’ve known as home.

Why punish these young people because of something their parents did?

Yet, we hear now from the four GOP candidates for Texas lieutenant governor that none of them supports this compassionate measure. They’re trying to out-menace each other at the expense of young Texans seeking to make good lives for themselves.


What’s up with Dewhurst?

What in the world is happening to Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst?

The one-time giant of Texas politics — the guy who came out of nowhere to become Texas land commissioner in 1998 — and has been elected three times as the state’s lieutenant governor — is looking and sounding like a floundering underdog in his race for re-election next year.


Now he’s singling out state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who’s pondering whether to run for governor next year.

A new poll suggests Dewhurst isn’t the favorite in a four-person Republican primary race for lieutenant governor. Blogger and Texas Monthly editor Paul Burka thinks Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples is the man to beat in the primary. Dewhurst might end up third in that four-person race.

Dewhurst cracked to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board that the state likely will be asking next year “why were we talking about Wendy Davis?” Burka wrote this: “What he should be worried about is whether people will be saying, about a year from now, ‘Why were we talking about David Dewhurst?’ As for Davis’s prospects in a general election race, they depend upon whether she can make inroads among Republican women in the suburbs. Getting picked on by a man is a good way to start.”

Burka’s commentary reminded a bit of the shabby treatment that Republican gubernatorial nominee Clayton Williams gave Democratic nominee Ann Richards in that fiery 1990 governor’s race. The two of them appeared together at a function as the campaign drew to a close. They shared a dais. Richards walked over the Williams and extended her hand. Claytie refused to take her hand, calling her a liar because of things she said in a campaign ad about her opponent. The snub was seen all across the state and as a few pundits said at the time, Williams managed to offend Texans’ traditional view that men treat women with courtesy and respect. That act of rudeness — plus Claytie’s infamous “sit back and enjoy it” comment about rape — sealed his fate. Richards was elected governor.

Dewhurst’s star has been falling. He got steamrolled in the first of three special legislative sessions — by Sen. Davis, of course, in that well-documented filibuster of an anti-abortion bill. Let us remember, too, that he lost the GOP U.S. Senate primary race in 2012 to that upstart loudmouth Ted Cruz, who painted Dewhurst as some kind of squishy moderate. Dewhurst has been trying to out-Cruz everyone in Texas ever since — and he doesn’t do it with much grace.

Dewhurst has his hands full trying to hold his office next year. Staples, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston all are challenging him in the primary.

A year ago I would have bet on Dewhurst beating them all. I’m not so sure now.