- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said Thursday he will quit his statewide-elected office early to become president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, one of the state’s most powerful trade groups.

Staples has been the state’s chief agriculture officer since 2007, but earlier this year lost a bid for lieutenant governor in the Republican primary. He also previously served in the state House and Senate.

Staples said in a statement that he’ll step down sometime within the next two months, but didn’t give an exact date. Until a new agriculture commissioner is selected in the November general election and sworn into office in January, Deputy Commissioner Drew DeBarry will be in charge of running the agency.

“I will continue to fight for Texas to be the leader in our national and world economy,” Staples said in a statement. “As I embark on this new challenge, I do so equipped with the knowledge and leadership lessons learned through my current and previous public service and private sector roles.”

Texans for Public Justice, a left-leaning government watchdog group that tracks money in politics, questioned why Staples would leave office early when his term is nearly complete. The group has previously called for elected officials to wait at least two years before taking a private sector job in areas they may have influenced while in office. Texas law has no restrictions on when elected officials can take private sector jobs.

While it isn’t uncommon for statewide office holders to move into lucrative lobbying jobs when their terms are finished, Staples’ departure before his term is done is relatively rare, said Andrew Wheat, research director at Texans for Public Justice.

“Our position is people in public office should be serving the public. There should be a long and significant break between the flip from public service to the lobby,” Wheat said.

Texas Republican Party chairman Steve Munisteri did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. A Texas Democratic Party spokesman declined comment.

Staples earned a salary of $137,000 a year as agriculture commissioner. His salary and compensation for leading the Texas Oil and Gas Association were not disclosed. The industry group said it conducted a national search to replace outgoing President Rob Looney and that Staples was the best choice.

Staples had been seen as a rising star among Texas Republicans when first elected agriculture commissioner. As a state senator, he led efforts to pass the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2005, a measure that was recently ruled unconstitutional by a federal court. In recent years, he focused on immigration and border security.

But Staples got stuck in a GOP logjam and unable to move up as Gov. Rick Perry won a third full term in 2010. By 2014, Staples found himself in a crowded Republican primary for lieutenant governor and finished a distant third in a four-way race.

Staples received attention earlier this month when he raised objections to a school district pilot program that encourages kids to eat meatless lunches once a week. Staples said the effort by Dripping Springs was part of an “activist movement” advocating a vegetarian diet for Americans.

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