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Sid Miller wins Republican primary for Texas agriculture commissioner

The incumbent avoided a runoff. State Rep. James White had tried to unseat Miller with criticisms centered on controversies under Miller’s leadership.

Boosted by an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller won the Republican primary election Tuesday, brushing off primary challengers who sought to unseat him with criticisms of recent controversies.

Miller’s challengers, state Rep. James White of Hillister and Carey Counsil, a rancher and economics professor, did not appear to capture enough of the vote to force the race to a runoff Tuesday night.

“We had an overwhelming victory tonight,” Miller said. “It wasn’t unexpected. As I campaigned around, I could tell it was going to be a blowout.”

Miller was first elected in 2014 and is seeking a third term leading the Texas Department of Agriculture. He and Trump have long supported one another, and a close relationship with the former president helped secure a tough primary race for Miller.

“Sid was an early fighter for our America First agenda,” Trump’s endorsement statement of Miller said. “Sid has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”

Miller had publicly considered challenging Gov. Greg Abbott, but shortly after Trump endorsed Abbott in June, Miller announced he would seek reelection to continue overseeing the Texas Department of Agriculture.

White and Counsil largely focused on recent ethics scandals in the office and the commissioner’s poor relationship with the Legislature.

One of Miller’s top political aides, Todd Smith, was indicted in January on felony charges of theft and commercial bribery. He is accused of taking money in exchange for state hemp licenses that are doled out through Miller’s office. Miller quickly distanced himself from the controversy, terminating Smith’s employment with the campaign. He said he would fully cooperate with the investigation, which was conducted by the Texas Rangers and the Travis County District Attorney’s office.

Opponents had also accused Miller of raising taxes and fees on struggling farmers and ranchers, increasing the department’s bureaucracy to reward political supporters and neglecting essential duties of the job. Tensions have risen between Miller and the Legislature, which in 2019 stripped the Department of Agriculture of its responsibility to administer motor fuels licensing, transferring it to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Both state Sen. Charles Perry — an influential Lubbock Republican who chairs the Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee — and state Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, endorsed White.

Miller cast those challenges as political attacks from liberals and “establishment” Republicans, calling himself a “political maverick.”

“It was two desperate candidates trying to get traction and throw everything [at me], and nothing stuck,” Miller said.

Miller will face Democrat Susan Hays, an attorney who also ran on cleaning up the agency’s reputation and who easily won the Democratic primary, in the November general election.

Photo: Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller speaks in October 2020. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

BY ERIN DOUGLAS with Texas Tribune.