Todd Staples spent the first few years of his term as Agriculture Commissioner positioning himself to run for higher statewide office. After Kay Bailey Hutchison declined to resign her senate seat, and the long expected musical chairs among Republican statewide elected officials was avoided, Staples has shifted his focus to using the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) as an extension of his campaign. Since taking office in 2007, Staples has shown a dissappointing pattern of shameless self-promotion and incompetence.
The latest example of Staples mismanagement of the TDA involved the outsourcing of $3 million in federal funds to a Kentucky-based non-profit for a broadband mapping project. The non-profit, Connected Nation, has a spotty record and well-documented ties to the telecommunications industry. The study's value is also coming under fire from Staples' Democratic opponent, Hank Gilbert, whose campaign has said the study could have easily been completed by a Texas state agency or public university.
“It was inappropriate for the Texas Department of Agriculture to outsource more than $3 million in federal funding to a Kentucky non-profit organization with a questionable record and significant ties to telecommunications companies when federal law allowed the state to conduct this project on its own,” Gilbert said.
“The fact of the matter is that federal law allowed the state or any of the public universities in Texas to conduct this project,” Gilbert said, citing the provisions The Broadband Data Improvement Act, 47 U.S.C. §1304, which states that multiple entity types—including government bodies—were eligible for the funds.
As bad as Staples' decision to outsource the federal funds was, it fits into a long pattern of behavior the TDA has followed under his leadership. What is perhaps more notable is that the TDA is directing reporters to contact the Texans for Todd Staples campaign with questions about the Connected Nation contract.
Of course, it was not Texans for Todd Staples who awarded the federally funded contract, and it is hard to imagine the Republican political operative Cody McGregor employed by the Staples campaign having any qualifications to answer such questions.
McGregor has attempted to deflect legitimate questions about the Connected Nation contract by feeding reporters recycled negative information about Hank Gilbert. The TDA, not individuals employed by the Staples campaign, need to be answering these questions with facts, not recyling old lines of attack against Gilbert.
The question that Todd Staples needs to answer: Where is the line drawn between the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Texans for Todd Staples campaign?
Currently, there is mounting evidence that the TDA and the Staples campaign are nearly one and the same. The Gilbert campaign issued a press release today encouring reporters to take the following actions:
- Insist that the Texas Department of Agriculture offer an explanation for why Connected Nation received a $3 million contract from TDA given the wake of problems that plagued the non-profit organization that performed broadband work in North Carolina and Kentucky.
- Ask the TDA why they are referring questions about a state contract to Texans for Todd Staples. Ask if it is a deliberate attempt to dodge difficult questions about the Connected Nation broadband contract.
- The core issue is about TDA's questionable broadband contract itself, not the back and forth between the two campaigns. Therefore, inquiries should be directed to the TDA, not Todd Staples' campaign. TDA Deputy Commissioner Bryan Black, who handles media inquiries for the Texas Department of Agriculture, may be reached at 512-475-1669. Note that the voice mail at this extension instructs that media inquires may also be made directly to Mr. Black's cell phone, 512-964-2830.
Texas needs a leader who will put the Texas Department of Agriculture first, instead of prioritizing his own re-election and political career over the job Texans elected him to do.
The bottom line remains that the Todd Staples and the TDA need to be accountable for the Connected Nation contract decision. It was not a decision made by his campaign staff, and they should not be the ones answering questions about state business.
More information on this issue can be found from the Hank Gilbert campaign's press release: Gilbert Asks Why Staples Outsourced Three Million Dollars In Federal Funds To Questionable Kentucky Non-Profit