A man, his dad, and his dad’s dogs. The story of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.
From: Country Lifestyle
A man, his dad, and his dad’s dogs. The story of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.
When Todd Staples talks to his dad, Cecil, you get the feeling that they’re having a conversation that left off two weeks ago.
Staples, brand new to his post as Texas agriculture commissioner, owns an Anderson County ranch with Cecil Staples, and when they talk about hay and cattle, you feel a little silly, because you aren’t quite part of it all.
The two have a patter that’s comfortable and familiar, even to those who don’t know them. You want to hear more. You want to fit in. They are just that kind of people.
Now, Todd Staples is a politician, and he has been since 1989. He’s the picture of a politician, with his broad handsome face and 6-foot frame. And he talks about future, and education and protecting personal property. All the things a good agriculture commissioner should say. The difference is, this guy is the real deal.
“Agriculture is life,” he says. And he means it.
This is a world where friends are called when Todd can’t help out his partner and father because of demands in Austin. This is a world where dogs follow old men, and love them along the way.
“They won’t leave me all day long. I fix a fence, they’ll just lay and watch me,” says Cecil of his dogs.
Meet Hank and Pepper (Pepper’s the mom). If Cecil is in a truck, the heelers trail along. If Cecil gets out of the truck, they’re right there. They’re looking for work, he says. They help get the cattle pinned; they help separate them.
At one point, one of the dogs (Dad and Son argue about which is red- and blue-cross, and which is registered blue) just looks at a cow about to cross a fence line, and the cow takes off.
“They won’t let her stray,” says Cecil.
Truth is, there is only so much a heeler can take.
Nearby, Hank and Pepper get bored, realizing there is no work to be done. So they return to the ranch house, waiting for Cecil to come home.
Welcome to Todd Staples’ world.
A pond teems with bass and Todd reminisces about camping out here with his siblings. His parents still live in the house he grew up in, and the cattle low nearby.
“That’s a registered Angus,” Cecil says at one point, on a drive through the ranch. “He’s a pretty bull.”
What makes a pretty bull?
“Well, we don’t call bulls pretty,” says Todd.
“I do,” says the dad.
There’s no arguing with Cecil Staples. Well, there’s arguing. But, you’ll probably lose.
“He does all the talking, I do all the listening,” Todd jokes.
“It’s all right to disagree,” says Cecil. But: “I’m going to make a point.”
Over the ranch’s pond flies a blue heron, and “look at that little old duck, I’ll be,” Todd says, forgetting himself. A track of path called a dam trails over.
Cecil Staples says he never intended to be a millionaire, and he never wanted that for his four children. He just wanted for him and them to be comfortable. He wanted his children to go to college, for example, something he and wife, Carol, didn’t get.
When Todd Staples talks about his childhood, words like honesty and hard work come up. And this is the real deal.
When did the four children start working the ranch?
“From the time they could crawl into the truck,” says Cecil. And he’s serious.
“I’d get them up on a Saturday at 6 o’clock, and we’d work until 1, 2, 3.”
When the kids were old enough to make up their minds, they could step back from ranching. But, they better have their minds made up to do something else.
Son Cecil – not Junior, they note – said at one point when he was about 16: “ ‘Dad, I don’t enjoy this.’ “ says dad Cecil. “I thought about it for a few minutes and said: ‘That’s all right. But you get up at 6 o’clock and go to a job.’ “ So Cecil, not Junior, went and found a job selling clothing, and he did it for two years. Today, the younger Cecil is a CPA.
When Todd was a boy, maybe 7 or 8, he would leave notes for his dad: “Don’t go to the farm until I get back from school.”
“I’m the only one it’s a big part of my life,” he says of himself and his siblings. “I’m the only one agriculture just got in my blood.”
The power of getting “out-worked”
Todd Staples’ political and ranching careers have been intertwined since he ran for president of the state Future Farmers of America while in high school. He lost. It is the only political race he has lost, and he learned some valuable lessons. He hadn’t canvassed the delegates enough, he says. He wasn’t prepared on the issues.
“I made the decision that I never wanted to be out-worked again,” he says.
His professional political life would be launched several years later, at the tender age of 25.
“(Ag teacher Harold Gilbert) called me on a Saturday morning, said: ‘We want you to run,’ I said I was too young, and he said, ‘We gave to you. Now it’s time to give back.’ So I said, ‘Yes, Sir.’ ” Staples says this without taking a breath, as though he’s told the story a few dozen times before. But it still makes him laugh. And so, Staples’ career as a Palestine councilman began.
“When you get one that can go in a direction, not that I could go there, not at all, but he was just an exceptionally good kid,” says Gilbert. “The direction I pointed him in, he went.
“Number one, he was a good looking kid. Well groomed. Had good parents. All of the things you were looking for in one,” says Gilbert. Also, he was a strong public speaker. And he had pretty girls hanging around him, Gilbert jokes.
Staples would go on to serve in the state House for six years, and then in the state Senate, until he was sworn in as agriculture commissioner in January.
He would carry a workers’ compensation reform bill in 2005; and he helped push through legislation that prohibited the selling of water for commercial purposes from lands that were acquired for the Trans Texas Corridor. That same bill prohibited the Texas Department of Transportation from condemning land for non-transportation purposes. He was also involved in education issues, having received the Champion for Children award from the Equity Center for his work.
Today, his issues range from rural economic development to children’s nutrition at schools to water and personal property owners’ rights.
Two marketing campaigns are also administered by the department: Go Texan and Texas Yes! Go Texan encourages the branding of Texas-based products. Texas Yes! encourages tourism in rural areas.
“We have the opportunity to export Texas hospitality,” Staples says. “If we can capitalize on tourism dollars, we can increase ag operators’ income and sustain rural communities.” As part of Texas Yes!, the department is looking to create a map that shows visitors where all the festivals will be shown.
So what does he enjoy most about his work in political life?
“I like accomplishing things,” he says. “Find a problem and match it with a good solution.”
Of quilts and postcards
While Staples talks about his political career, his wife, Janet, sits inside the home where her parents-in-law live, working on a quilt of the state’s counties. It’s a present to Staples for his recent election.
“If I could stay here five minutes I could get it done,” jokes Janet, a reference to the break-neck pace the couple leads between businesses, political life and cattle.
It has become a tradition for Janet Staples to give her husband a gift in honor of each election – except for city councilman. They weren’t married then, so he didn’t get one, she jokes.
She gave him a gold watch for the House of Representatives, and an antique postcard (from 1912) for the Senate. Why has she been working on the most recent since before the election?
“I’m very optimistic. I go ahead and get the gift early,” she teases.
The two have four children, including their youngest, Elizabeth, who is a senior at Palestine High School.
Once Elizabeth graduates from high school, it’s up in the air where the couple will live.
“Janet says the state constitution may require me to be a resident of Austin, but she doesn’t have to be,” Todd Staples laughs. “We’re negotiating.”
Staples comes home to Palestine most weekends, but that isn’t much time for the cattle that graze by his parents’ home. Staples’ time is in his job in Austin. We’re talking about somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 hours a day, from 6 in the morning until as late as 9 at night.
But when he is at home, with Dad and the heelers, you can see the comfort in his tone, in his way of moving. This guy loves the land.
It’s only 100 head of cattle. They own or lease a total of 170 acres of land. This is the stuff of a couple of hard-working guys, and their wives, when the need is there. This is a place where fathers and mothers are addressed as sir and ma’am.
But here is what it’s about. The land. The honesty. The truth of it all. Todd Staples isn’t just the commissioner of agriculture. He’s the son of Cecil.