The Cupcake Crusader has a new cause! And surprisingly it has nothing to do with cupcakes!
That's right, Sid Miller, Texas Agriculture Commissioner, easily won his office last November, and now it looks like he's actually trying to improve the agriculture department. There's just one tiny problem: funding.
"I need a little help. I sure do," Miller said on Friday. "We had some deep cuts in 2011 and I'm simply asking the legislature to restore those cuts."
See, Miller came into office with big plans (relatively speaking) for the ag commission. He wants to increase the number of people checking the more than 400,000 gas pumps in the state, wants to dig into the two-year backlog on fraud cases, wants to better monitor taxi cabs, hire more inspectors AND kick off a year-long audit of the agriculture department. Even more intriguingly, Miller says he wants to audit the department for one simple and very reasonable sounding reason. Namely, since it was established in 1907 the department has never actually been audited. Yep, not once.
The only hitch in all this downright sensible planning is that it seems Miller didn't know he would be the one trying to run the agriculture commission -- and be lacking the proper funding to do so -- back when the then-state representative voted on a whole bunch of budget cuts during the 2011 Texas legislative session. In Miller's defense, the state legislature was completely flipping out over the Great Recession in 2011 and it's a fair bet that just about any program that held still long enough had something lopped off. (Let's not even talk about what they did to the education budget.)
Miller acknowledges that he voted in favor of those cuts back then, but he says it made sense at the time. "We were broke. We were upside down and in the hole and we had to tighten our belt. However, that's not the case now."
We have to admit Miller has surprised us with this altogether really solid sounding agenda. After all, this is the guy who garnered some of the bad kind of media attention during his run for commissioner for referring to the Civil War as the "war of Northern aggression" and keeping the ever-controversial Ted Nugent on as campaign treasurer, among other things. But here he is working on actual problems within his actual department. He also wants to hire 92 more people to actually do some of this overseeing he's planning. Unlike his predecessor Todd Staples, he hasn't even mentioned the border problem.
Which is not to say the border isn't on his list. It's just not at the top of it. Miller declined to compare his approach to the the ag department with that of his predecessor. "i don't spend a lot of time looking back," he said. Miller says that the border issues that had Staples so captivated are still on Miller's agenda, but he has other things to see to first. "I have priorities and right now that's not at the front of the list. It's on the list and we will get to it, but right now I have to make sure I have the resources to perform my duties."
Anyway, it'll be interesting to see if the Lege ponies up the money to increase his budget. Miller is, of course, a stalwart Republican and the 84rd Texas Legislature is pretty much a GOP show, but these are the sorts of Republicans who hate to spend money on just about everything.
Even Miller, old conservative stalwart that he is -- Miller authored the pre-abortion sonogram bill back in 2011, giving him some pretty impressive uber-conservative bona fides -- may not be able to wrest more funding out of them, but he's hoping they'll see things his way. "I was one of the most fiscally conservative members in the House, and I get it. But there are some essential consumer protections we need to provide."
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.