The Agriculture Commissioner is one of the most respected and powerful posts in the State, a steward of all things related to food, as well as a few other miscellaneous duties involving gas pumps and other odds and ends. For years, the Texas Farm Bureau has played kingmaker for this post, not only when Democrats carried the day in Texas, but for the past two decades of uninterrupted Republican rule. This year, they endorsed J. Allen Carnes in the Republican primary, something we later did too. For all our efforts, Carnes came in dead last, and a runoff election has now emerged between Sid Miller and Tommy Merritt, two former State Representatives from the rural portion of the State.
The two men have somewhat similar stories, in that their service in the Legislature often consisted of right-wing grandstanding, and that they were both ultimately defeated for re-nomination in the 2012 Republican primary. Merritt was defeated by the more conservative David Simpson, who has since become a stalwart of Tea Party causes in the legislative. Miller, for his part, was defeated by J.D. Sheffield on account of allegedly neglecting the needs of his home constituency. Both men are lacking in the Agricultural credentials, to say the least, although the same thing could be said ten times over on the other side of the aisle.
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The Texas Agriculture Commissioner is a powerful, Statewide elected position that traces its roots back over 100 years ago. During the era of Democratic dominance, the office was occupied by larger-than-life men who became national figures. There was James McDonald, a bitterly conservative Democrat who fought with Franklin Roosevelt over crop subsidies. He served for twenty years until a 25 year old man named John White defeated him and held the office himself for twenty-six years. White, a liberal, would later go on to serve as President Carter’s deputy Secretary of Agriculture as well as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Then, of course, there was Jim Hightower, a folk hero of the left who held the office for close to a decade.
Since Republicans first took over the office, however, it has been career politicians most prevalent in this post. Rick Perry, then a State Representative, unseated Hightower in 1990. He was succeeded in 1998 by Susan Combs, the incumbent Comptroller, who was –in turn– succeeded by Todd Staples in 2006, the incumbent.
In the race to succeed Staples, it is the career politicians who finished best. Sid Miller and Tommy Merritt, two fiercely conservative former State Representatives, finished first and second, respectively. They will therefore advance into a runoff election in May. Two other conservative activists, Joe Cotten and Eric Opiela, also finished strong, while J Allen Carnes, the Mayor of Uvalde and a self-described pragmatist, finished dead last.
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Longtime readers of this blog will recall that I am not much for predictions. Well, to be fair, I used to predict things all the time, but I was notoriously wrong too many times to count. Accordingly, in an effort to save face, I will not field my own electoral predictions, which are only slightly less reliable than the Tribune polls.
Rather, I want to note what I am looking for and what I am hoping for; admittedly, they are nearly mutual exclusive categories. Within those categories, I would like to look most specifically at both the Republican & Democratic primaries, as well as both Statewide races and those in Harris County. Within these four categories, there are quite a few overlapping key points, however.
1. HOW BIG IS THE STUPID VOTE?
This is one for the Democratic primary. I am using the official academic term, of course, to describe these so-called stupid voters. They are the voters who will cast their lots for Kesha Rogers (US Senate), Lloyd Wayne Oliver (District Attorney) and Lori Gray (115th District Court), in that order. Albeit, plenty of otherwise unintelligent voters may coincidentally vote for the non-egregious candidates, but there is no way to discern them from Adam.
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What again does the Agriculture Commissioner do? Last Saturday, we explained somewhat thoroughly that the duties of the office include not only regulation of agriculture and ranching, but broad powers over things as diverse as school lunches to gas pumps. It is a position we are adverse to recommending for a political novice. Unfortunately, three such novices signed up to run in the Democratic primary: Hugh Fitzsimons, Kinky Friedman and Jim Hogan. While Fitzsimons does have experience in the field as both a farmer and a rancher, this office is not a technocratic job–It’s politics. Accordingly, this board believes all the candidates are equally inexperienced and unprepared for the political difficulties that may arise from the post.
While we could not come to a majority decision, we do unanimously recommend a vote against Jim Hogan. While Hogan did sit down for an extended interview with his hometown paper, the Cleburne Times-Review, we could not find any more information about this dark horse candidate. No Facebook, no website, no campaigning. As is our general policy, we are typically weary of such candidates.
Click here to read two minority opinions!
Like many of the ancillary positions we have fielded endorsements in over the past weeks, the Agriculture Commissioner is a position that confuses many. Indeed, we would reckon most Texans do not know all the unique and diverse and responsibilities the elected office comes with. While the Commissioner of Agriculture may have a broad responsibility to look over the farms and ranches of the State and ensure meaningful and smart regulation over those process, the office actually consists of far more.
As much as we may execrate the incumbent, Todd Staples, he has done one at least one thing remarkably well, and that is explaining just what the office does. In an –albeit ridiculous– commercial from 2010 that features a horse, Staples delineates the duties of his post, which also include regulation of Gas Pumps and of School Lunches. For these important obligations, Texans deserve a no-nonsense non-partisan who will uphold the best interest of all the community, not just the miniscule portion of the electorate who votes in Republican primaries.
Accordingly, we have not been big fans of either Sid Miller or Tommy Merritt thus far in the campaign. Much like our previous qualms in the races for both Comptroller and Railroad Commissioner, we are generally not supportive of such candidates. Miller touts Second Amendment support, anti-abortion rights and Tea Party histories, with not a single reference on the homepage of his website to Agriculture. Similarly, Merritt has focused on these unrelated issues too much –though not nearly to the same extent as Miller. Both of these men are former State Representatives, the type who now seek these Statewide elected offices as a type of political rung-climbing.
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Simply put, there have been some entrances and some exits in recent Statewide Republican primaries. Namely, in the races for the positions of Agriculture Commissioner and Railroad Commissioner.
Brandon Creighton, a State Representative from Magnolia who took his sweet time to announce his candidacy for Agriculture Commissioner, is out of the race. As far as I could figure, Creighton was the hands-down favorite in the race thus far, and his exit opened up a vacuum. Politics, of course, abhors a vacuum, and therefore a small stampede of candidates rushed into the primary, which now lacks a clear frontrunner. I never got around to writing about this last week, but Sophia discussed it in the week in review this past Sunday.
Now, the Texas Tribune reports that State Representative Stefani Carter, a candidate for Railroad Commissioner, has dropped out of the race. Carter, in stark contrast to Creighton, was not doing especially well in the race. Malachi Boyuls, George P. Bush’s business partner, has by far the most money in that race, and thus was crowned as the frontrunner by the Tribune. Carter, therefore, most likely felt her candidacy was not worthwhile.
Click here to learn who the new candidates are and what the former candidates will now run for!