Commentary

One candidate looking out for rural Texas

Now the court square’s just a set of streets,

That the people go round but they seldom think,

‘Bout the little man that built this town

Before the big money shut em down,

And killed the little man.

—Alan Jackson, “Little Man”

Got a visit last week from Hank Gilbert, Democratic candidate for Texas Agricultural Commissioner, and I have to say, I like what I heard. While not the glamour race, Gilbert seems to be the only candidate in any statewide race who is concerned about rural Texas, and who voices the opinion that bigger, as in cities and corporate agriculture, isn’t always better.

On Tuesday, he passed by the loveable Kinky Friedman easily— and God bless Kinky, but he is not a serious Ag Commish candidate— but he will face a tough battle against Republican Todd Staples, who’ll use the power of incumbency and a generally still conservative voting bloc to try for another term.

Ag Commish candidate Hank Gilbert. Ag Commish candidate Hank Gilbert. But Gilbert, the only candidate of the three who actually grew up working a ranch, has got the small farmer in mind as he plows ahead with his uphill race.

Gilbert has been in Rockdale before, at the Trans-Texas Corridor hearing held at the KC Hall about three years ago. He and plenty of other rural Texans fought that plan and ultimately killed it. The secrecy alone of the planning and contracts made it not worth supporting, not to mention the loss of huge swaths of land.

Gilbert has also been on the forefront of fighting for rural Texas’ water supplies, looking out for his part of the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer just south of Tyler as Dallas and Fort Worth want to tap that source. (Can anyone around here relate?)

Sure, thirsty cities need water, but they aren’t doing much to help themselves, as the average user in the water district for the metroplex uses three times the state average. Makes it pretty hard to feel sorry for, and advocate for them when they won’t help themselves.

Gilbert favors conservation, such as re-using discharge from water treatment plants, which should provide clean water if they are working as they should. He also favors desalinisation, which is not just for the salty water of Texas’s coastal areas. Those can be used to get at the brackish water in all aquifers. He said since El Paso put in its desal plant, it is shooting for providing 80 percent of that desert city’s water.

He said desalinisation plants should be given preference over reservoirs because we don’t have to flood farmland to get them, plus a desal plant will provide a few full-time jobs to run it. A reservoir provides zero jobs once it is built.

Gilbert also wants the state to do a better job of marketing itself, an area where he says Staples has failed. The Lone Star State touts its “Go Texan” marketing, but that effort pales in comparison to other examples Gilbert mentioned like California’s “happy cows” marketing, or Wisconsin’s cheese.

He says Texas is the largest beef producer in the U.S., but there is no branded “Texas beef” product. In fact, he says much of the famous “Omaha Steaks” are raised here, but marketed through Omaha. Even the trendy and expensive Kobe beef from Japan has a significant presence on Texas ranches. And since the 1880s, Kansas City has built quite a reputation selling, for the most part, Texas beef.

“Other states are raking in billions using Texas beef,” he said. A fresh approach to Texas marketing could bring billions more in revenue to Texas, and I’m sure budget writers would welcome that during these lean times.

Which brings us to corporate ag and its similar sorry effect on the state that corporate industry has had (as if we need reminding here in Rockdale).

Gilber t says Texas should regain its dominance in cotton by re-thinking the “anywhere but here” mentality about where to put textile mills. “We should produce our ow n shir ts and jeans, and I guarantee most consumers would pay 50 cents more for one that says ‘made in Texas’,” Gilbert said.

A Texas-first mentality could also be extended to processing facilities and more.

I haven’t read the Michael Pollan books about food supplies, but you can’t tell me that much thought has been given by corporate ag to the effect of all the additional beef and poultry hormones ingested by those of us on the receiving end.

I wish Gilbert well in his quest. The whole state has become urban-oriented and it’s good to see that at least one statewide candidate is looking out for the little man.

ken@rockdalereporter.com


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2010-03-04 digital edition



The burn ban for Milam County has been lifted. Burning is always prohibited in the county's municipalities.


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