Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has a challenger for the Republican primary, which makes all the sense in the world when you think about it.
Miller has cut a rather, shall we say, interesting figure on the political stage since he was elected to his post three years ago. He's been enmeshed in numerous controversies during his relatively short time at the head of the Texas Department of Agriculture, including spreading fake news through his social media accounts, calling Hillary Clinton a non-complementary term for the female vagina and sparking a Texas Rangers investigation after it came out that Miller had used taxpayer funds for a jaunt out of state to get something called the "Jesus Shot."
In other words, even though Texas is still about as ardently red and conservative as a state can be, Miller has done such a lousy job (let's not even start on the massive, ill-considered and deep budget cuts he made on the Ag Commission after taking the helm) and attracted so much controversy that he has attracted a primary challenger, Trey Blocker, a longtime lobbyist, ethicist and lawyer based out of Austin.
Blocker announced his candidacy on Wednesday in a glorious video that lists a slew of traits he has and that Miller, by implication, lacks.
"I'm running because we need to bring honesty, integrity and fiscal responsibility back to the Department of Agriculture," Blocker said in his video campaign announcement posted on Wednesday. "We need to restore TDA to its core mission of promoting, protecting and preserving Texas agriculture and rural Texas. And we need a commissioner who can be an articulate, intelligent defender of our core conservative values."
Then Blocker goes for the jugular, accusing Miller of being big government. "Over the past four years, we've watched a career politician, embroiled in ethical controversies, raise taxes and grow government at a level that would make Bernie Sanders proud," Blocker says in the video. "Asking our elected officials to be ethical shouldn't be too much to ask for."
The thing is, Blocker may have a shot. Not because of Miller's numerous public gaffes and scandals, but because when Miller got into office he cut the department budget to the bone at the same time he started pushing for massive fee increases on many of the services the agriculture department provides. The bid annoyed both the farmers and ranchers on the hook for the fees and members of the State House of Representatives who were going to have to face their angry constituents. A state audit subsequently found the programs were taking in millions more through the fees than the programs cost to run, as Texas Tribune pointed out.
So based on how Miller has actually run the department, Blocker could be a serious threat.
Miller apparently already views Blocker with some concern. He issued a statement as soon as Blocker's video announcement came out on Wednesday announcing that he was "shocked" to see Blocker running as a Republican, because Blocker's work as a lobbyist has included some involvement in Democratic politics. Miller went on to dismiss Blocker as a "low-level lobbyist mired in the Capitol swamp," an "Austin insider who doesn't know the first thing about Texas agriculture."
Blocker's campaign issued another video on Wednesday, this one aimed at both proving he's a real Republican (because he was raised Republican and has sued liberal mayors) and that he has enough agricultural experience to do the job (because he spent a lot of time mucking out horse stalls for his mom as a kid).
Miller saw an opening and went for it. "It’s hard to take him seriously when he claims his ag experience comes from cleaning out horse stalls as a kid," Miller stated. "Trey Blocker doesn’t know jack-diddly about Texas ag."
Miller hit on a point there, but it may not matter whether Blocker knows the front end of a horse from its backside or can grow a single potato if Miller has made his constituents angry and embarrassed enough about having voted him into office in the first place. Or not.
Either way, it looks like we've got at least one serious statewide primary race ahead of us for 2018. Based on the opening shots, it could be one hell of a show.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.