Since assuming the office of agriculture commissioner in 2015, Sid Miller has had a tenure that’s, by all metrics, prolific.
The rodeo cowboy has gotten into skirmishes with the Texas GOP establishment, had office staff at the center of corruption scandals, developed a relationship with former President Donald Trump, denied the results of the 2020 presidential election and increasingly become an advocate for “compassionate use” of marijuana.
He joined the Texas Standard to talk about time as agriculture commissioner and why he thinks he’s qualified to be elected again. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Last week, the Texas Politics Project released a poll that had you ahead of challenger Susan Hays in both the favorable and unfavorable ratings among registered voters. How are you feeling about that heading into the election itself?
Sid Miller: Well, I haven’t seen that poll. I’d like to see it. That’s good news. It’s better than the alternative, I guess.
So people recognize your name, but I guess in some ways, is that part of the challenge? What work do you feel like you need to do this time around?
Well, you know, a lot of people in the past have not known or even cared who the agriculture commissioners are because they think, why should I care who the state farm boss is? But I think I’ve elevated the office of agriculture commissioner and we’ve tried real hard to educate people about why Texas agriculture matters, so I think we’ve been successful at that. We have our TV show, our NASCAR team, our radio show and outreach – a lot of social media. So we actually affect the average houselife more times in one day than any other state agency, including feeding five million school meals each day.
RELATED: A conversation with Democratic ag commissioner candidate, Susan Hays.
You are a proud conservative, and among the things you’re vocal about is keeping taxes low. But I understand that during your tenure as commissioner, the Agriculture Department has also raised fees for farmers and ranchers high enough to generate millions of dollars of surpluses. How would you square that for voters?
Well, I’d like to see those surpluses. I haven’t seen any of those. But what happened is the taxpayers were subsidizing our operation over here, so the fees that H-E-B and Valero and Buc-cee’s would pay, they would pay half of it and the taxpayer would pay the other half. They were subsidized, so when I became commissioner, what happened is we quit doing subsidies. I don’t believe the taxpayers should be subsidizing especially large corporations like that. So we’re now what is known as a self-funding agency. We tend to do that. We had to raise the fees and now those, you know, including the farmers, they pay their own way. They pay for the services that we render to the taxpayers, not on the hook for it anymore.
Now, something you’ve talked a lot about recently is something you call compassionate use of cannabis in Texas. What is compassionate use and why do you think it’s good for Texas?
Well, the problem with our compassionate use program, we do have a medical marijuana program that passed in 2015. But the problem is we pick winners and losers. You know, some things you can get treated and some things you can’t. So if you have PTSD, you can get treatment. But if you have chronic pain, which we know it helps, you can’t get treatment. If you have epilepsy, you know, your doctor can treat you with cannabis. But if you have HIV, which is also known to help, you can’t get treatment. So I think it’s high time that we got the bureaucrats and the legislators out of making medical decisions and let the doctors and medical professionals make those decisions.
Another thing you’ve been a big advocate for is hemp. But that leads me to another question. You’ve come under fire for the conduct of one of your advisors, Todd Smith, who was charged for essentially taking money in exchange for handing out the hemp licenses that the Department of Agriculture issues. What’s been your response to Smith’s indictment?
Well, this is not unusual. The Democrats have weaponized the justice system. They weaponized the FBI. I mean, it’s their newest and latest tactic, so this is nothing but a political ploy to try to soften me up for the general election. It’s not going to work. My two opponents in the primary tried to beat me over the head with it – didn’t work. I still won by over like 60% of the vote. So people can see through that and what it’s really about. So I’m not too worried about it.
You mentioned you one of the things you do is feed school children, and I know that’s something you’re proud of. Do you want to talk about more that you’ve done there?
Well, when I took over, our school lunchrooms were horrific. Instead of having healthy kids, we had healthy trash cans. So I wanted to make sure and turn that around. So as I visited cafeterias, I said, ‘how much local product are y’all serving in your cafeteria to our kids?’ And they’d say none. So we were serving zero locally grown products, which are the healthiest and the freshest and many times organic, to our kids. I set out to correct that. I don’t do mandates. Everything we do with those lunchrooms is all on a volunteer basis. So now we have over about 60% of our schools participating in our farm fresh program. I started out with ‘farm fresh Fridays’ which at least on Friday serve something local and we have ‘meet the farmer’ Friday. We would bring the farmer in and explain where the milk came from or how the corn got on their plate. Tell them a little bit about, you know, how that agriculture works, and we’d send out gardening kits to younger grades, let them get a little dirt under the fingernails, figure out where their food comes from. So this last year, we got our numbers in and our schools served $65 million of local product when they’ve been serving zero – never flash frozen, no added salt, no preservatives, no dyes, never flash frozen, cooked fresh. And guess what? Kids eat it.
You know, on more than one occasion, I’ve seen you’ve criticized Gov. Greg Abbott, of course, a fellow Republican. I’m thinking about things like immigration and his handling of the pandemic. How would you describe your relationship with the Texas GOP?
You know, I don’t know if you noticed or not, but I’ll call out Democrats when I disagree with them. I’ll call out my fellow Republicans. But at the end of the day, we agree about 95% of the stuff the governor and I do. So that’s why I’ve just recently endorsed him for his reelection and also Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, every other statewide elected official. So I’m somewhat you call riding for the brand. We’re going to get the whole team through this election, hopefully.
Well, and speaking of endorsements, I know you have a friendly relationship or have had with former President Trump. Will you be looking for his support between now and November?
Actually, I already have the endorsement of Donald Trump. So it’s already there – have been there a while.
And do you agree with Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him?
I believe it was. We have evidence of that. We have the video of the 2000 mules. We have evidence up in Dallas, even from the election before that, we were investigating election fraud in Texas. And it’s proven to be true.
The courts haven’t agreed with that. What’s your response to that?
Well, we just convicted the lady in San Antonio. I think it was 18 counts. So I think they do agree with it. You know, Texas has been notorious for that, going all the way back to Lyndon Johnson in Duval County. So it’s not a new thing.
Claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, or that Joe Biden did not win the presidency are false. The woman Miller mentioned from San Antonio has been charged with voter fraud but not convicted. The case is still pending and prompted by a supporter, Miller mentioned allegations of fraud in Lyndon B Johnson’s 1948 Senate primary victory.