Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller was once considered to be a top contender for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. But while he’s retained political favor with former President Donald Trump, he’s lost major political and industry support in Texas.
Ximena Bustillo looked into how the Texas Legislature has reduced the powers of the agriculture commissioner since Miller has held office. She also spoke to GOP party leaders and industry groups about Miller’s reelection bid.
Listen the interview with Bustillo in the audio player above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.
Texas Standard: You write that Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller was once Trump’s “favorite cowboy,” as the headline goes. But now many within the state’s GOP have turned against him. How so?
Ximena Bustillo: Yeah, I mean, to clarify, he still is Trump’s favorite cowboy. He received the Trump endorsement in late December of 2021, so Donald Trump is pulling for Sid Miller as a candidate pretty strongly to this day. But insiders, political insiders within Texas, are saying that they’re ready for Sid Miller to be out of office and for someone else to begin taking that role. And how we’re seeing that manifest itself is in State Legislature members supporting his next front runner, Representative James White. We’re seeing that the governor and the lieutenant governor haven’t weighed in on the agriculture race, but they weighed in on other races. We also see that a lot of agriculture industry groups are either completely staying out of this race or endorsing the opponent.
You say that the Legislature is also engaged in what some Texas insiders refer to as slow stripping of his departmental responsibilities – things like fuel regulations, that sort of thing?
Yes, definitely. The fuel regulations is the biggest, most prime example of that. That came out of a bill that went through the Texas Legislature in 2019 and went into effect in 2020. And what you saw was the fuel pump regulations, which used to be under the Department of Agriculture, interestingly enough, are now under a different state department, and some say that that was largely motivated from wanting to take responsibility out of Miller and out of Miller’s jurisdiction.
Why is it that someone who has the support of Donald Trump, who has been the torchbearer for a lot of conservatives, has lost so much support among Texas Republicans, people in his own party?
What you’re seeing is a lot of the political insiders, I’m not speaking for the average voter here, see Miller’s lack of decorum and protocol manifest itself and has been seven years of ethics investigations. And I will clarify that these investigations always seem to find that Miller has not broken any laws, but it’s the constant questioning of — “Is he getting in trouble again? Could this be the time that he is indicted for something or is charged for something or is accused of something?” Over and over again. That has brewed a distrust not only with the Legislature, political insiders, his own agriculture constituency, but some of the general public as well. Over and over again.
Texas certainly leads the nation in the number of farms and ranches. But how significant is this Texas Department of Agriculture race?
Well, I’m an agricultural reporter, so I think that it’s very significant. As you mentioned, Texas is definitely one of the largest when it comes to agriculture in the United States. And the Texas Department of Agriculture has decent jurisdiction when it comes to school nutrition programs, when it comes to regulations… being a resource for farmers and ranchers for different programs, for weights and measures, all sorts of different ad hoc things. I did notice in a lot of my reporting that some of the agriculture sector you’d think would be under the Texas Agriculture Department now kind of go somewhere else. The ranchers and cattlemen tend to rely on other agencies versus sometimes the Department of Agriculture. So there definitely is a unique dynamic there, but it’s definitely not a department to just wish away.
And this is leading to a perhaps tougher than usual reelection campaign?
Yeah. And that’s looking at the voting patterns over the last two election cycles. As we know, Miller ran in 2014 and he ran in 2018 and is running again in 2022. And what you can see in just pure turnout vote numbers is that Miller won by a lower percentage in the general election in 2018 than he did in 2014. He’s what, some folks, say amongst the candidates that “underperformed” in his reelection campaign. So there are a lot of questions about how successful he even will be come the general election in 2022.