For the past 25 years, it has been an Austin tradition to hold free courthouse weddings on Valentine's Day. This year, Travis County Judge Judge John Lipscombe and his wife retired Judge Jan Breland, who were officiating the ceremonies, decided to make the tradition a little more inclusive. The judges offered to perform free commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, inviting them to share in the loving spirit of the day.
Unfortunately, this didn't sit well with some people, including current Agriculture Commissioner and Republican canididate for Lieutenant Governor Todd Staples. Staples sponsored the amendment to the Texas Constitution that defined marriage as between one man and one woman that was approved by voters in 2005. In the Lt. Gov. race, the amendment has become an important part of Staples' conservative credentials.
Not one to pass up an opportunity to rile up his conservative base before early voting, Staples condemned the Travis County judges' effort to make this Valentine's Day more equal.
Read what Todd Staples had to say about marriage equality after the jump.
Republicans' relationship with the Latino community can be described as complicated at best, and abusive at it's core.
Along with efforts of voter suppression, Texas Republicans have a long history of portraying Latinos as "the bogeyman" of Texas, feeding into the xenophobia of many right-wing voters. The Republican Lieutenant Governor primary race has so far been the perfect embodiment of this dilemma. All four major GOP candidates have been desperate to sound the toughest on immigration, often resorting to racially divisive messages in order to pander to conservative Tea Party voters.
Even the Hispanic chairman of the Associated Republicans of Texas, Hector De Leon, believes this type of anti-immigrant rhetoric will only undermine the party's efforts to branch out to different voters, particularly Latinos.
"I understand the need to address the issue of illegal immigration, and I understand the need to secure borders, and I realize that's critically important," said De Leon. "But by the same token, that issue can be addressed by not engaging in rhetoric that sounds like thinly veiled racism."
Read more of the GOP's problem with Hispanic voters, including remarks by Senator Van de Putte, below the jump.
Greg Abbott is afraid of alienating Hispanic voters, while Lt. Gov. hopefuls fear angering the Tea Party.
Attorney General Greb Abbott, GOP candidate for governor, is finding himself at odds with would-be No. 2s over repealing the Texas DREAM Act.
Republicans running for Texas lieutenant governor are practically tripping over themselves to oppose the 2001 law that affirms in-state college tuition rates to young undocumented immigrants living in Texas.
Abbott, increasingly weary of alienating Latinos, had been repeatedly dodging questions over the matter time and again, until his campaign finally spoke on the issue. Sort of.
In a written statement on Thursday, Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said Abbott believes the goal of the law is laudable but needs revamping.
"Greg Abbott believes that the objective of the program is noble," Hirsch said. "But, he believes the law as structured is flawed and it must be reformed."
All four Republican Lt. Gov. hopefuls are taking much more definitive stances. Sen. Dan Patrick spotlighted immigration over a 30-second TV ad falsely claiming he's the only GOP candidate for Lt. Gov. who's running "to oppose in-state tuition for illegal immigrants."
Read more on what challenges the Texas DREAM Act may face in the 2015 Legislative Session below the jump.
Thursday evening at a forum in Clear Lake, all four Republican candidates for Lieutenant Governor stated their support for a repeal of the 17th amendment, which allows for direct election of US Senators rather than election by a state's legislature.
Let that sink in: the four Republicans vying for the #2 job in the state don't think Texas voters should select their own US Senators.
What happened at the Clear Lake Tea Party forum, why is it obvious that David Dewhurst and Dan Patrick support this, and how did this become the cool new trend for Tea Party-elected outsider candidates?
On July 15, financial reports for candidates, PACs, and political parties were due to the Texas Ethics Commission. For the state of Texas, any candidate running for a state office has to report biennially, every six months, while those who are running for a federal office must report quarterly, meaning every three months. Further, incumbent state-level candidates can not raise funds while the legislature is in session; meaning fundraising reports for all statewide offices, except US Senate, only reflects funds raised for a few days out of the last six months in addition to funds left over from previous campaigns. While the reports were due on July 15, the fundraising deadline reflected in these reports was on June 30.
This roundup will only include candidates who have announced for statewide office or have publicly sent signs they will announce within the next few weeks. Many of the candidates listed had not announced publicly they were running for a statewide office before the June 30 deadline.
Click below the jump to see a complete fundraising report that shows the total cash raised and cash on hand for announced statewide candidates.
Feeling beloved today after getting a standing ovation from the Texas delegation at the RNC, David Dewhurst made a big announcement: he's running for re-election in 2014. This ends months of speculation about Dewhurst's future that was amplified when he lost what seemed to be a locked-in primary for the GOP Senate nomination.
Watch Dewhurst very close-up:
Is this an ego trip? Does Dewhurst really think he's "serving Texans" by selling out state government to massive corporations? Doesn't matter. He's running again.
And so are a bunch of other big-name Texas Republicans. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has already said he's running whether Dewhurst is in or out. Today, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said he's still planning to run for the seat. State Comptroller Susan Combs has also said she will run in 2014.
Looks like a brawl is brewing in 2014. Dewhurst has a lot of ground to gain back after the Perry-Dewhurst machine failed epically last month to persuade Texas Republicans. If Dewhurst loses out in another primary and exits government a twice-loser, it would be a great embarrassment for him. At least he has potential company in Rick Perry, who may himself be heading for his second, and final, primary loss in 2014.
An EPA Administrator is ‘crucified.’ An election in El Paso might hang on a bridge. Spills, fines, and lawsuits abound. The future might not be so bleak after all. All that, and more, in this week’s environmental roundup for Texas, the nation, and beyond!
Al Armendariz, the EPA’s Region 6 Administrator based in Dallas, was forced to resign after a video surfaced in which he likens his enforcement strategy to a Roman conquest, “they’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw, and they crucified them.” Needless to say, those comments have not gone over well with members of congress or the oil and gas industry in Texas. Debbie Hastings, Executive VP of the Texas Oil & Gas Assoc, claims in a recent Op-Ed that Armendariz’s statement is part of a larger “federal undercurrent to undermine the oil and natural gas industry, which promotes our nation’s energy independence, provides millions of jobs and pays billions in taxes.” EnergyWire is convinced that the feud between the Texas energy industry and the EPA will continue despite the resignation.
The 16th Congressional District Democratic primary contest might hang on the construction of a new international bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. The incumbent, Silvestre Reyes, claims as many as 5,000 El Pasoans will be displaced by the bridge. There is a slight problem for Reyes. According to Roy Gilyard of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (which would be tasked with proposing the bridge in question), there is no current activity to build a new international bridge. Reyes’s Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, called the controversy “the worst kind of pandering. [Reyes] is using lies to create anxiety and play upon that to try to win votes.” O’Rourke has called for the construction of a new bridge, which, he believes, will increase international trade and keep El Paso competitive with other inland ports.
After last year’s wildfire season burned nearly 4 million acres in Texas, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples announced the creation of the Texas Wildfire Prevention Task Force. The task force is a partnership between the Ag Commission, the Texas Forest Service, the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, and researchers at Texas A&M. It seeks to identify high fire risk areas and eliminate the risk through preventative measures, like controlled burns, before wildfires occur.
Four Southeast Texas marine-based entities have filed suit against BP, alleging that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill “has had detrimental effects on the Gulf’s marine and coastal environments and is to this day affecting business and their ability to generate revenue.” This follows last week’s $7.8 billion settlement in another suit against BP, and federal charges brought against a BP engineer for supposedly trying to cover up the extent of the spill.
Flint Hills Resources, a Kansas based refining and chemical company that is “wholly owned by Koch Industries,” was fined $46,450 by the TCEQ for incorrect valve settings which led to the release of 4,875.5 pounds of hazardous organic compounds into the air from its chemical plant in Port Arthur. At a different Flint Hills facility in Corpus Christi, a leak was reported in an orthoxylene unit last week which led to the plant’s shutdown. The extent of the leak remains unclear.
Port officials say there is no risk for an oil spill after a 750 tanker collided with a drilling rig on Wednesday off the coast of Port Aransas. There were also no reported injuries from the incident.
While Houston remains the worst city in the US, outside California, for ozone pollution, its air quality has improved significantly, according to the State Of The Air 2012 report from the American Lung Association.
Austin’s transit agency, CapMetro, added a cool new toy this week. It is a zero emissions hydrogen fueled bus that has previously operated in Columbia, South Carolina. A privately owned hydrogen fuel station will fuel the bus.
The Sierra Club has filed suit against dated coal-fired power plants across Oklahoma. According to Whitney Pearson of the Sierra Club’s OK chapter, all coal plants in Oklahoma emit excess emissions, and the EPA needs to “end the free pass that large polluters currently have which allows them to emit unlimited amounts of pollution during certain phases of their operations. Because people need to breathe all the time, limits of the amount of pollution that polluters can emit need to apply all the time.”
Amory Lovins, an “energy theorist,” claims in this TED Talk that ending the US dependence on fossil fuels will actually be easier, and more cost effective than most of us realize. His central point is that once industry, individuals, academics, and the military start moving beyond coal and oil we won’t need federal regulations or acts of congress to help us along. He also believes that this movement will begin soon. I hope, one day, to share his optimism.
A recent study shows that exposure to toxic chemicals can have risks over a much longer time frame than most of us realize. Bruce Blumberg, a biologist at UC-Irvine, says, “it’s not just ourselves that are at risk. We’re condemning our descendants to have increased risks, too.”
Greenland’s glaciers are still melting, but the rate of that meltdown is not increasing as fast as some climate scientists had predicted. Earlier doomsday scenarios had the sea level rising by as much as 6 meters (20 feet) by 2100. Now it looks, as if Greenland’s melting will only cause a 2 meter rise. The vast majority of the Earth’s population lives less than 100 meters above sea level, so any rise could have a profound effect on millions of people.
People who live in glass houses usually learn not to throw boulders through their own living room windows. Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples evidently never learned that.
I’ve watched the 'battle royale' between Democrat Hank Gilbert and Todd Staples with a lot of interest this cycle. I’ve found it particularly interesting that, although the media has given a lot of attention to allegations Staples has made about Gilbert (including that he has some old tax liens and bounced a check a decade ago), the media, at least the Capitol press corps, hasn’t done much to explore the problems with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) that Hank Gilbert’s campaign has worked pretty hard to make public (see here and here). To be fair, they have done a good job of covering Hank's plan to reform TDA, but they've mostly ignored the very real, very dangerous issues with TDA under Staples.
I find that even more ironic given information that I came across the other day about Staples having managed to escape prosecution for assaulting his step-son. Yes, it turns out that incumbent Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples does, indeed live in a glass house. Why the media hasn’t taken notice is anyone’s guess. After all, they've already set the precedent making Hank's family issues campaign issues.
According to police reports from the Palestine Police Department (the full originals which I've posted in the extended entry below), Staples’ has a bit of a record himself, having been investigated for Assault Causing Bodily Injury/family violence for throwing his stepson to the ground, getting on top of the kid, and beating him.
What’s worse, though, is that it looks very much like Staples may have used his Rolodex of political connections to have kept the charges under wraps for years. Back in 1998 while Staples was a State Representative, he was listed as the “defendant” in Case Number 0927-98. According to these police reports, victim’s statement, and multiple witness statements which were sent to me by an anonymous source (the Gilbert campaign says it wasn’t that source—see the statement from them later in this post), Staples grabbed his stepson, pushed or threw him on the ground, jumped on top of the stepson, and struck him in the face several times while threatening to “beat him black and blue.”
The file notes that Staples and his wife admit that Todd Staples was on top of the son while he was on the ground. Based on these police reports, it sure looks like Staples’ was given preferential treatment by the Palestine Police Department and the Anderson County DA’s office. For example, although the incident was reported on July 6, Staples wasn’t contacted about it until July 10th, and then didn’t return a message about it that was left at his office until the following Monday, July 13, 1998.
Then, in a highly unusual move for a police investigation, Staples and his wife were allowed to come to the police station, and then leave and return with their statements in writing. They were also allowed to delay providing contact information for material witnesses until they filed the written statements. Even more suspicious is that when the Palestine Police Department referred the case to the Anderson County District Attorney’s Office, it evidently vanished into thin air after the DA decided not to prosecute it. Months after the incident, on December 15, 1998, Jeff Herrington, the DA for Anderson County, sent a Jacksonville lawyer who was evidently representing Staples a glowing letter claiming that the incident had been reviewed by three separate prosecutors (three! not one, but three!) and Herrington in turn blamed everything on Staples’ stepson.
In spite of that letter, the case was evidently still open until midway through Staples’ run for Senate in 2000, because Staples stepson executed an affidavit of non-prosecution on June 23, 2000. Though the affidavit was on a typed form, the handwriting on the forms looks like handwriting we’ve seen belonging to Staples.
This all brings up some good questions.
NUMBER ONE: Was Staples’ given preferential treatment, and did he attempt to use his position to avoid being charged in the incident, or even taken before a grand jury?
NUMBER TWO: Why wasn’t Staples’ arrested when the incident was reported? Why did no one seek a protective order for the stepson?
When I contacted the Gilbert campaign about this, the campaign confirmed they were aware of the incident and had seen the records, and even offered a twist. This is a statement that the campaign sent me:
We are aware of this incident. The documents you sent us appear to be the same documents our campaign obtained from the Palestine Police Department under a Public Information Request earlier this year. Before we received it from the Palestine Police Department, someone identifying themselves as an Anderson County resident e-mailed the campaign copies of much of this information, too. Paper copies of these records were also mailed to the campaign’s P.O. Box earlier this year with a return address of a P.O. Box in Gun Barrel City which we could not trace.
Because it is not our intention to do what Staples has done and make this race personal, we have not used this material to date, although I can confirm that a number of reporters also possess the same information. The only additional information I can provide you is that when I requested similar files from the Anderson County District Attorney’s Office, I received back a letter saying that the Anderson County DA’s office has no records of the case.
That in and of itself seems odd. Usually DA’s offices keep these types of records. It looks like they vanished into thin air.
This brings up another question: Did Staples’ use his political influence to ‘disappear’ the files from the DA’s office? Dr. Jay Herrington, brother of Jeff Herrington, the DA at the time, is a contributor to Staples. What kind of relationship did then-legislator Staples have with Herrington? Did he help Herrington’s office with grants? Who knows.
Either way, Staples has a lot to answer for. So does the capitol press corps. Why have they, while giving plenty of ink to Staples’ allegations about Gilbert, not bothered to dig into Staples’ past?
If there was one statewide Republican officeholder that I thought would be all over the Prop 8 ruling it was Ag Commissioner Todd Staples, Senate sponsor of HJR 6, the enacting legislation that led to Proposition 2 in 2005, which constitutionally banned recognition of same-sex marriage in Texas after voters approved it by 76%. It took him a few days but he did issue a pointless release to remind people of that.
Athens Review: "In 2005, I authored the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Texas. At the ballot box, 76 percent of Texas voters statewide supported it. The federal court ruling from California against a state's right to define marriage is an assault on both traditional family values and states' rights."
Now, there's no reason for Staples to have had to issue any statement. As head of the Department of Agriculture, I can't imagine any application the Prop 8 ruling has on his office unless there has been a sudden rush of marriage applications form the state's cattle and goat populations.
Thankfully Democratic Ag Commissioner nominee Hank Gilbert fired back at Staples with some choice words about what he might focus on instead.
"I've spent the last two weeks on the campaign trail talking about real reform for the Texas Department of Agriculture-from weights and measures to funding to increase agribusiness in Texas to protecting Texans from eminent domain abuses," Gilbert said.
"My opponent, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be focused much on agriculture at all. He's kind of like a kitten playing with a ball of yarn. If you hold an anchovy over his head, he forgets all about that ball of yarn; it is kind of how Todd Staples is with this issue."
Gilbert pointed out that the Agriculture Commissioner has no authority or power over the Texas Family Code with respect to marriage and that Staples is misleading voters about his role in the law's passing in order to, presumably, excite ultra-conservatives. "People elect their Agriculture Commissioner to do something about agriculture, not to serve as the state's de facto bedroom police," he said.
Todd Staples continues to be one of the most useless statewide elected officials. Good riddance.
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.