Candidate rematch takes a nasty turn

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Election 2010

When it comes to the race for Texas agricultural commissioner, a rematch of the candidates from 2006 may result in the same outcome in a much nastier campaign.

The race for agricultural commissioner is typically a low-key affair even though winning the office helped Gov. Rick Perry and State Comptroller Susan Combs launch their statewide political careers in the 1990s. The office is charged with regulating pesticide use, exports of livestock and making sure weights and measures used at gas stations and grocery stores are accurate.

Todd Staples, the Republican incumbent who has served as commissioner for four years, has called Hank Gilbert, his Democratic challenger, a “pathological liar.” Gilbert called Staples a professional politician who should “go home and get a real job like the rest of us.”

“They ran against each other in 2006 without so much nastiness,” said Harvey Tucker, a political science professor at Texas A&M. “From the outside, it looks as though the animosity has become personal more than politics as usual.”

Staples’ campaign has hammered Gilbert on personal issues — pointing out his 2001 conviction for theft by check, arrest for outstanding traffic tickets and tax liens placed on his property by the IRS.

“These [charges] aren’t allegations — they’re straight from the dockets of the Smith and Travis County courthouses,” Staples said.

Gilbert, who said he’s talked about his issues with taxes as well as traffic tickets and blamed Staples for the nasty turn the campaign has taken.

“The political side of it for me don’t mean squat,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said that Staples hasn’t done enough to promote Texas’ agricultural products and producers and claimed that programs like GO TEXAN, which aims to promote Texas agriculture products both in Texas and around the country, hasn’t been effective. He would also back a plan to expand production of biofuels in West Texas.

Staples said the GO TEXAN program has been a success and would be further expanded if he’s re-elected. He also said he would back the state’s efforts to oppose attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the output of carbon dioxide, which gas scientists say is responsible for global warming.
No Democrat has held the office since then-incumbent Jim Hightower lost to Rick Perry in the 1990 election.

While Combs and Perry both successfully ran for statewide office after serving as agricultural commissioner, Tucker said he doesn’t feel the job itself has much to do with either candidates’ success in campaigning for higher office.

Perry, he said, benefited from the Republican wave that ended Democratic control of politics in Texas during the 1990s. Combs benefited from running for an open seat in a state dominated by Republicans. Both served as agricultural commissioner for eight years before running for another office.

“Both took advantage of the opportunity to move up when an incumbent Republican chose not to run for re-election,” Tucker said.