Hank Gilbert sets his sights on Trans-Texas Corridor enabler Todd Staples, and other political "parasites" in Austin.
By THOMAS JENKINS
Big Spring Herald
If anyone is expecting Democratic candidate for Agriculture Commissioner Hank Gilbert to pull his punches going into the March primaries, they are sorely mistaken, as the lifelong Texas rancher stopped in Big Spring Friday to discuss his platform.
And while Gilbert must get past fellow Dem Richard “Kinky” Friedman before facing the Republican candidate in the November contest, there's little doubt the Whitehouse, Texas, man has already set his sights on incumbent Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, and other “parasitical” politicians in Austin.
Trans Texas Corridor enabler Todd Staples
“It's not going to change as long as we keep putting aspiring politicians in this office,” said Gilbert. “Rick Perry started out in this office, spent eight years there and made all of the political connections he needed to make and moved up the ladder. Along comes Susan Combs, and she does the same. And here comes Todd Staples, and he had a heck of a race against me, a political nobody. If I had 10 or 20 percent of the money he spent in the campaign I would have beat him and his political career would have been over. He got by, however, and he's spent three years trying to make those connections.
“He hasn't done anything in that three years to enhance agriculture, to enhance the marketing of agriculture or do anything to increase alternative energy, until now, when it's an election year... That pattern has to stop. We have to stop allowing the cycle of parasites, because that's what these people are. They are parasites. They are playing on feelings and emotions to get money from special interest groups to propel their political career. And we can all see from the situation in Washington, D.C., that career politicians have no idea what the people of this nation want.”
According to Gilbert, alternative energy and fuels could play a hefty role in revitalizing the agricultural industries in the state of Texas if political futures give way to common sense.
“The agriculture industry is struggling. We're losing family farms every day, and we don't have the people in place — including the leadership — to figure out how to help these people hold on to their farms and enhance the industry,” Gilbert said gravely. “There are a number of ways you handle this problem. There's a great misconception, not only in this state among the leaders, but among the leaders of this country that agriculture is a certain way and a certain format. However, if you don't change with the times and keep up with technology, you're never going to enhance the industry.
“One of the big pushes in this country and state right now are alternative energy and biotechnology or biofuels. As far as an agency is concerned, we have made no moves in that direction... We are now the largest producer of wind energy in the country, yet we utilize only a fraction of it because we don't have the infrastructure in place to get it from where it's being produced to where it needs to go. Just like Gov. (Rick) Perry and his Trans-Texas Corridor concept, they want to approach this the same way. They want to just take people's land and not give them a choice whether or not they will go from Point A to Point B through their property, and that's the wrong approach to take.”
Gilbert said the current state administration has simply disguised a floundering agricultural economy, a false face that could become all too apparent during the next legislative session.
“They've done an excellent job of disguising the fact they have been running the wagon into the ditch, and it's going to become abundantly evident when they go back in session in January 2011 and they are facing a $15 billion to $20 billion shortfall,” said Gilbert. “A lot of people have raised a lot of concern over the fact the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker recently sent out a memorandum to state agencies to cut back 5 percent, when, in actuality, the governor has done that every two years that he has been in office prior to the session. He asks the agencies to make cuts so they will end up with budget surpluses, and, at least on paper it would look like they were really being conservative and good stewards of our tax dollars.
“Unfortunately, what has happened by doing that is we've let a lot of good people go from these agencies who were doing the work out in the field, and those jobs were the first ones cut. So we ended up with incidents like what we had in Plainview a year-and-a-half ago when tainted peanut butter killed nine people across the United States. We have gas pumps and other regulatory devices that are supposed to be monitored in a timely fashion and that's not being done.”
The use of eminent domain — especially in the pursuit of the Trans-Texas Corridor — is something Gilbert said he's strongly opposed to, opting for a more user-friendly approach that could benefit both the state and Texas farmers and producers.
“I've been fighting the Trans-Texas Corridor for six years now,” he said, “and if the governor had been just a little bit smarter he could have gotten his corridor built, even against the wishes of people like me, if he had appealed to the land owners on the route of that highway to pay them fair market value for their property and give them royalties as well. A perpetual income — and it doesn't have to be a lot of money — because they sacrificed their property so it could be built here.
“The same thing could be done with our wind energy, even with our oil and gas lines. Any oil or gas company can go to the Texas Railroad Commission and get a permit for $100, and it gives them eminent domain authority. That's wrong. Any way you slice it, that's wrong. If we would work with the land owners, I believe the agency could be the go-between with the investors and landowners. I don't have a problem with power lines running across my property. I can farm under them, I can ranch under them. Sure, they are an eyesore, but they aren't causing me any problems. They certainly wouldn't both me if I were receiving a check at the end of the year. And it doesn't have to be a lot. We have farmers right here in Howard County and West Texas who are struggling to keep their farm. They are looking for any and every resource they can to keep their farms.”
Gilbert said he's proud of his Democratic background, but urged Texas voters to look at the issues, not just partisan politics, when they go to the polls.
“Most people who were born in this state prior to the mid-60s were raised as fiscal conservative Democrats,” said Gilbert. “Ronald Reagan did a lot to change that perspective, which is where the term 'Reagan Democrats' came from. My family never changed. We kept our fiscal conservative principles, but never left the Democratic party.
“I can guarantee you, when it comes to fiscal conservatism, I'm far more conservative than a lot of people we have elected in Austin and Washington, D.C., which is one of the reasons I'm running (for ag commissioner). I don't believe you should spend money you don't have and i believe we should be better stewards with people's tax dollars. Unfortunately, under the leadership of this current administration we have in Texas, we've done a terrible job at that.”
Contact Staff Writer Thomas Jenkins at 263-7331 ext. 232 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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