Four seasoned, elected officials are duking it out to become the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. Todd Staples accepted KERA’s invitation to sit down, talk about policy, and explain why he’s the best candidate for the job.
Staples, 50, is more than a decade younger than each of his opponents but he’s continuously served in state government longer than the others.
He began his first term in the Texas House of Representatives in 1995, moved to the Texas Senate in 2001, and has been the state’s agriculture commissioner since 2007.
He’s a rancher and real estate appraiser from Palestine who takes a few swings at his opponents as he explains in a deep, Texas drawl why he’s the best candidate.
Staples says the current lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, who’s running for reelection, has a record of “failed leadership” exemplified by his U.S. Senate loss to Ted Cruz.
He claims Dewhurst and State Sen. Dan Patrick aren’t as thrifty as they should be. He also criticizes Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson’s plans to draw state retirement while in office.
Staples on Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst:
“David Dewhurst’s Senate-passed version of the budget has been higher than the House-passed version of the budget every legislative session. You would think for a guy who’s been there as long as he has -- and he’s been there a long time -- that one of those years it wouldn’t have been that way.”
“As commissioner of agriculture, I cut my budget. We came up with efficiencies and I gave grants to the DPS to use in Operation Drawbridge,” which uses motion-detection cameras along the border to monitor for drug smuggling and illegal immigration.
Staples on State Sen. Dan Patrick:
“Dan voted to spend $6 billion out of the rainy day fund this last session, completely drain the fund to pay for some ongoing expenses. That’s bad fiscal mismanagement. I don’t think that’s the route Texans need to go.”
Staples on Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson:
“Jerry has said he wants to take state retirement while serving as lieutenant governor. I’m not running to retire, I’m running to serve and be an active, unapologetic leader for Texans.”
The opponents, as you’d expect, don’t agree.
Dewhurst’s campaign explains the budgets are a result of different processes in each chamber and says overall state spending has dropped about 11 percent since he became lieutenant governor.
Patrick says he only supported taking money from the rainy day savings fund for water and transportation projects because the fund will not be allowed to dip below a certain level.
Patterson says he’ll collect his retirement but donate the paltry lieutenant governor salary of $7,200 a year to charity.
Staples defends immigration votes
Staples' opponents are also taking aim at him. In debates before conservative groups around the state, they’ve tried to nail him for voting in 2001 to grant in-state tuition to the children of documented immigrants if they graduate from a Texas high school. They’ve accused him of supporting a bill that would allow immigrants to use foreign birth certificates or passports to get a driver’s license.
Staples responded to that criticism:
“The 2001 bill they’re talking about would have required the Department of Public Safely and would have cleaned up the types of documents they would have accepted. People were already getting driver's licenses that were here illegally, so they’re simply not telling the truth about those issues.
"On the in-state tuition bill, I have said that bill has not been enforced that requires individuals to correct their status and, therefore, it should be repealed.”
A guest worker program
The platform for the Republican Party of Texas calls for a guest worker program that would allow undocumented people to temporarily fill jobs when no U.S. workers are available. Those with immigration violations would have to pay a fine before participating.
Staples says a guest worker program shouldn’t be implemented without other steps being taken.
“To say we’re going to address the status of everyone here without first working on and actually securing our border only means we are going to perpetuate the problem. So, yes, we can work on a guest worker program. That is a part of my six-point plan (for border control). But if we start granting access for those who are here illegally without doing these other points, we are only going to encourage other people to come without following our laws.”
On education, Staples says academic success should be the focus -- not more spending per student.
He wants public schools to teach creationism, the idea that the universe and life are the creation of a supernatural being, a God, and not the result of evolution.
“Science has been proven wrong in many different areas. I think when it comes to the (U.S.) Environmental Protection agency, they utilize political science and not environmental science all the time. And I think we need to sue ... we need to present all theories so students can have options. I believe in creationism.”
And finally ...
KERA asked Commissioner Staples to tell us about something in his personal life that exemplifies why Texans can trust him.
“I grew up in a town where everyone knows you pretty much,” he said. “When I see people that have known me my whole life they tell me I’m the same person, you haven’t changed.”
Staples claims he’ll still be a straight shooter from East Texas if he’s elected lieutenant governor.