Other Voices

Commissioner Sid Miller takes a $1,120 trip to Oklahoma

Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller has had several awkward moments since he took office last year.
Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller has had several awkward moments since he took office last year. AP

A “Jesus Shot” sounds like a phrase your irreligious friends would use for Northern Iowa’s half-court buzzer-beater shot that ended the NCAA basketball tournament for the University of Texas at Austin on Friday night.

Nope. It’s a modern snake-oil remedy that apparently attracted the state’s agriculture commissioner to Oklahoma — a medicinal brew that is supposed to protect patients from all manner of disease and decay.

Too bad it’s not a political remedy. Sid Miller could use one.

His latest headlines topped a story in the Houston Chronicle last week that detailed a Miller trip to Oklahoma.

Miller expensed the trip — his office later said he would reimburse taxpayers that $1,120. He initially called it a visit to his counterparts in the Oklahoma government, and his office said he had been invited to see them.

Lawmakers there told the paper they didn’t invite Miller or even have appointments to see him. And Miller didn’t show up for a meeting with Oklahoma’s agriculture commissioner that he had requested himself.

He did tell one of them that he was in Oklahoma for the wonder cure, and while he wouldn’t confirm that to the Chronicle, he’s quoted as saying this about the shot: “That’s private medical information. I’m not going to share that with you. But it’s worked out good.”

He paid for the shot. He ended up paying for the trip. And he got another clip for his scrapbook.

It’ll go next to some humdingers, some of them the kinds of things that could hurt him politically, some the sorts of policies that delight his supporters and enrage his opponents.

▪ He wanted sizable budget increases for the Texas Department of Agriculture, saying consumers were “getting screwed” by businesses the agency did not have the resources to regulate.

The Legislature didn’t go for his budget requests, and Miller came back later with a list of fee increases that surprised the ag community and a number of conservatives.

▪ He hired as his assistant commissioner — in charge of legislative relations — a former state representative from Oklahoma who had pleaded guilty to federal charges for breaking campaign finance laws.

▪ He popped off on Facebook, comparing Syrian refugees to rattlesnakes. Earlier, a spokesman declined to apologize after a member of Miller staff posted to his Facebook page suggesting the atomic bombing of Nagasaki as a model for making peace with the Muslim world.

▪ He loudly defended a predecessor’s decision to loosen restrictions on cupcakes and other sugary foods in Texas public schools. Then he rolled back the department’s ban on deep fryers and soda machines in schools.

He insisted this month that his agency is ardently fighting childhood obesity and diabetes.

▪ He named — at no state expense — an official volunteer chaplain who holds weekly “Faith at Work” sessions for any Agriculture Department employee who wants to take part.

Texas Democrats can make noise if they want to, but they haven’t had anyone elected to the agriculture job since Jim Hightower won in 1986.

Within the GOP, the transgressions of statewide officeholders go largely unremarked.

If this stuff is bad for the brand, nobody is saying so.

Ross Ramsey is executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune.

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