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Sid Miller

Endorsement watch: Olson, Kulkarni, Schexnayder

This has got to be the easiest call the Chron will make.

Kim Olson

The race for commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture seems straightforward enough.

The incumbent, Sid Miller, is a career politician who used his first term as commissioner to unnecessarily hike fees on farmers and travel on the taxpayer dime to buy a painkiller shot from an Oklahoma doctor who had lost his license in other states. He hired friends and campaign aides to high-paying jobs without giving the public a chance to apply as the law requires. He also declared a personal vendetta on barbecue shops because he was convinced their scales were inaccurate.

Overall Miller has proven himself reckless with political power and irresponsible with public funds.

The challenger, Kim Olson, is a 25-year Air Force veteran — one of their first woman pilots — fourth generation farmer, former school board trustee for Weatherford ISD in North Texas and an inductee at the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.

[…]

Here’s our pitch for hesitant Republicans: Voting for Olson won’t turn Texas blue. The office doesn’t have any legislative ability. Neither Miller nor Olson can use the seat to affect abortion laws, firearms regulations or the litany of partisan wedge issues that drive people to the polls.

What voting for Olson will do is return a sense of dignity to the chief office for Texas farmers and ranchers. She will run the office much like Republican former agriculture commissioner Susan Combs, with a focus on the issues. She plans to work with the Legislature in preparation for the department’s upcoming sunset review in 2020, address rural needs like broadband access and also grow the languishing Go Texan buy-local program.

Look for an interview I did with Olson on Monday. She’s as good and charismatic as you may have heard. As for ol’ Sid, I could make a case for Ted Cruz – hell, I could make a case for Dan Patrick – before I could make a case for him. It’s not just the clownishness, the corruption, and the racism. It’s that he’s objectively bad at his job. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. He was viewed as an ineffective clown as a State Rep, and in case you forgot he was booted out in the 2012 Republican primary by the much more mainstream JD Sheffield. He’s a classic case of failing upward. If we’re smart, this time we’ll fail him out.

This one is refreshing.

Sri Kulkarni

In 2016 incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson did not meet with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, but he nonetheless earned our endorsement over his Democratic challenger. That’s not the case in 2018.

First-time candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni, 40, wowed the editorial board with his knowledge, eloquence and robust resume that included time working in the U.S. Senate and 14 years as a State Department foreign service officer that took him all over the globe. That experience only emphasized to Kulkarni the value of American ideals, he told the editorial board, which sit at the core of his campaign. He’s running an optimistic, forward-looking effort that aims to combat the tribalism ripping apart our nation with a renewed sense of decency. That’s also why he’s not accepting corporate donations.

[…]

We’ve liked Olson in the past because of his support for NASA and the Port of Houston, but any promise Olson displayed when first elected to Congress in 2008 has been washed away over the years. Instead of representing the best interests of his district, he has become just another D.C. hypocrite who’s politically afraid to choose a more independent path.

Olson must think no one is connecting the dots between calling himself a fiscal conservative and his support for Trump’s tax cuts and profligate spending, which have raised the national debt to more than $21 trillion.

They have a lot of complimentary things to say about Kulkarni, and I encourage you to go read it. I interviewed him for the primary runoff, and I concur with their evaluation. As for this Olson, I’d argue he’s the same Congressman he’s always been. Maybe his act finally wore thin for the Chron, or maybe they finally found an opponent to him they liked. Either way, fine by me.

This has a bit of a surprise.

Marty Schexnayder

We usually like state Rep. Jim Murphy — a lot.

Over his five non-consecutive terms in office — won in 2006, lost in 2008, back in 2010 — this moderate Republican could be counted upon to bring local issues up to Austin. He pushed pension reform before it was popular and cleared the legal path for hike-and-bike trails along utility easements. However, it turns out that definition of “local issues” might not be exactly ethical. At his full-time job, Murphy was paid a yearly salary for more than $312,000 as the general manager of the Westchase District, which sits outside his district boundaries of by Interstate 10, Westheimer Road, Loop 610 West and State Highway 6. In Austin, he served as chair of the Houston Committee on Special Purpose Districts. In other words, his elected position put him in charge of providing oversight to his professional position. This questionable arrangement has been public since Murphy was first elected. This year, however, investigative reporters revealed the specifics of Murphy’s contracts, which showed he received incentive payments for delivering state funds from the Legislature. For example, Murphy had a $6,000 bonus if he secured “$1 million or more in new TxDOT funding for highway projects” for Westchase.

This smacks of an unethical conflict of interest, and raises questions about whether he was illegally lobbying without properly registering. Voters, too, should question how Murphy can adequately represent their interests during the legislative session when he’s getting paid thousands to deliver for someone outside the district.

[…]

Luckily, voters have an excellent alternative in Marty Schexnayder, who will be 52 on Election Day. He’s a first-time candidate with a well-rounded resume that includes 25 years in legal practice and volunteer work for charities like Interfaith Ministries. He also serves on the board of directors of Faith in Practice, a nonprofit dedicated to providing medical services in Guatemala. His campaign focuses almost exclusively on core issues, like fixing school funding, addressing property taxes and tackling flood concerns.

Here’s my interview with Schexnayder. I’d heard about the ethical concerns regarding Murphy, but with the likes of Trump and Paxton and Miller lumbering around, who can even keep up with that sort of thing? At least now you know.

The meta-campaign for Senate

Let’s talk about what we talk about when we talk about the Senate campaign.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senate has caught so much fire throughout the state that the new favorite betting game in Texas politics is “How close can he get to Ted Cruz in November?”

The implication in the question’s phrasing is that O’Rourke’s loss remains a given.

Despite the high enthusiasm the El Paso congressman’s campaign has drawn among Democrats, Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide in over 20 years. An informal round of interviews with well over a dozen political players involved in Texas and national politics suggests that Cruz is expected to extend that streak with a re-election victory in the high single digits.

While such a margin would amount to significant progress for Democrats from past statewide performances, a loss is a loss, and Cruz’s win would likely ensure GOP control of the U.S. Senate for another two years.

Even so, O’Rourke’s 18-month statewide tour could still help significantly rebuild a flagging state party apparatus. The term being thrown around quietly among Democrats is “losing forward.”

In that sense, the stakes are much higher for both parties than a single race.

How this very strange match up of Cruz, a former GOP presidential runner-up, against O’Rourke, a rank-and-file congressman turned political sensation, shakes out could set the trajectory of the next decade in Texas politics.

[…]

More than one operative from both parties brushed off the O’Rourke excitement with a pervasive phrase — “This is still Texas” — a nod to the state’s recent history as the most populous conservative powerhouse in the union.

The enthusiasm for O’Rourke — his bonanza event attendance and record-breaking fundraising, in particular — is something the state has not seen in modern memory. But there remain open questions over whether the three-term congressman can take a punch when the widely expected fall advertising blitz against him begins, whether he can activate the Hispanic vote and whether he can effectively build his name identification in a such a sprawling and populated state.

“We’ve never been in a situation where November matters at a statewide level,” said Jason Stanford, a former Democratic consultant, about the uncertainty of the fall.

So what would a moral victory be, if O’Rourke is unable to close the deal outright? Operatives from both parties suggest a 5- to 6-point spread — or smaller — could send a shockwave through Texas politics.

Such a margin could compel national Democrats to start making serious investments in the state and force local Republicans to re-examine how their own party practices politics going forward.

But that kind of O’Rourke performance could also bear more immediate consequences, potentially scrambling the outcomes of races for other offices this fall.

Only a handful of statewide surveys on the race are floating around the Texas political ether. But one increasing point of alarm for Republicans is what campaign strategists are seeing when they test down-ballot races.

Often campaigns for the U.S. House or the Texas Legislature will include statewide matchups in polling they conduct within a district. Sources from both parties say some of those polls show Cruz underperforming in some state legislative and congressional races — particularly in urban areas.

In effect, O’Rourke could come up short but turn out enough voters in the right communities to push Democrats over the line in races for the Legislature and U.S. House.

I know I discussed this before back in 2014 when we were all high on Battleground Texas, but let’s do this again. What are the consolation prize goals for Texas Democrats in 2018?

– To discuss the consolation prizes, we have to first agree on what the main goals are. Clearly, electing Beto O’Rourke is one of the brass rings, but what about the other statewide campaigns? My guess is that based primarily on visibility and the implications for control of the Senate, the O’Rourke-Cruz race is in a class by itself, so everything after that falls in the “consolation prize” bucket. Thus, I’d posit that winning one or more downballot statewide race would be in the first level of lower-tier goals, with Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Ag Commissioner, and any Supreme Court/CCA bench being the ones that are most in focus.

– Very close behind would be the Congressional races, for which three (CDs 07, 23, and 32) are rated as tossups, a couple more (CDs 21 and 31) are on the radar, and more than we can count are on the fringes. You have to feel like CD23 is winnable in any decent year, so for this to count as a prize we’d need at least one more seat in addition to flip. Very good would be all three tossups, and great would be another seat in addition.

– In the Lege, picking up even one Senate seat would be nice, but picking up two or three means Dems have enough members to block things via the three-fifths (formerly two-thirds) rule. I don’t know how many House seats I’d consider prize-level-worthy, but knocking off a couple of the worst offenders that are in winnable seats, like Matt Rinaldi in HD115, Gary Elkins in HD135, and Tony Dale in HD136, would be sweet.

– Sweeping Harris County, breaking through in Fort Bend County, picking up any kind of victory in places like Collin, Denton, Williamson, Brazoria, you get the idea. And don’t forget the appellate courts, which will require doing well in non-urban counties.

It’s easy enough to say what counts as lower-level goals, it’s harder to put numbers on it. It’s not my place to say what we “should” win in order to feel good about it. Frankly, given recent off-year elections, it’s a bit presumptuous to say that any number of victories in places we haven’t won this decade might be somehow inadequate. I think everyone will have their own perception of how it went once the election is over, and unless there’s a clear rout one way or the other there will be some level of disagreement over how successful Democrats were.

Trib profiles Kim Olson

I have four things to say about this:

Kim Olson

Wherever she goes, Kim Olson carries with her packets of wildflower seeds advertising her campaign to unseat Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Olson calls the seed packets her “calling card.” She distributes them to everybody she meets on the campaign trail, from fellow Democrats at fundraisers in Austin to farmers selling pickles at outdoor markets in conservative West Texas. After lunch last week at an eatery in Midland, Olson had one of her supporters slip a seed packet into the bill.

Olson, a third-generation farmer, has only slightly less cash on hand than her Republican opponent, and over the last few months, she has established herself as the most outspoken feminist on the statewide Democratic ticket, with a loyal following of women who admire her barnstorming speeches. Although every Texas Democrat running this year faces an uphill battle in a state dominated by Republicans, experts in both parties say that Olson, 60, stands as good a chance as anyone on the Democratic slate of winning statewide office. Olson has pledged to visit all 254 counties in Texas — a feat recently achieved by fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who’s running for U.S. Senate — and meet with voters in conservative areas that Democrats typically avoid.

“The only way we’re gonna make a difference is if we go to them,” she said at a fundraiser earlier this month. “You’ve got to walk their fields, you’ve got to visit their farms, you’ve got to sit at their family dinner tables, because the last time I checked representative government was going out and listening.”

Olson, who has short gray hair and wears blue jeans and work boots, travels the state in a white pickup truck, where she stores cardboard boxes stuffed with seed packets. But for all their utility on the campaign trail, those packets hint at a potentially damaging episode from Olson’s past. In red lettering on the back of each packet is Olson’s military rank: retired Air Force colonel. In speeches at fundraisers and conversations with voters, Olson often touts her military credentials, particularly when she pitches her campaign to Republicans. The circumstances of her retirement from the Air Force, however, may represent her most serious political vulnerability.

1. Kim Olson is a legit badass with a ton of charisma – to use Molly Ivins’ formulation, she has a lot of Elvis in her – and she’s going up against the biggest chucklehead in the state. Yet it’s not clear that her likelihood of winning is the best amongst non-Beto statewide Dems. I’ve heard more than one expert make the same observation about Justin Nelson and his campaign against Ken Paxton. Suffice it to say that if merit were the determining factor, both would win in landslides.

2. I’m a fan of the visit-every-county style of campaigning, but I’m also a fan of keeping such things in perspective. One can only reach so many voters via this method. Even with the huge crowds Beto O’Rourke gets at his events, we’re looking at five million or more voters this November, so it’s hard to imagine even ten percent of them seeing Beto at a live event. With all due respect to Olson, her events are probably not as well-attended as Beto’s. These visits are a great way to touch base with the faithful, and especially for those in places that don’t get visited often one can hope those people will do their own leg work for you. It still really helps to have the resources to reach voters by other means.

3. You can read the rest of the article for the retirement incident. The short version is that (at least if one accepts Olson’s account) it was a bit of carelessness and a lot of appearance-of-impropriety rather than anything substantial. Which Miller will no doubt turn into The Worst Thing Ever, though to do so will require him to engage with Olson in some fashion, which he has been loath to do. Miller himself doesn’t have a lot of money, so a big negative-ad campaign seems unlikely. So it’s a bit hard to guess how this might play out. I suppose one advantage of being in a lower-profile campaign is that stuff like this tends to stay under the radar as well – this Trib article was the first I’d heard of it.

4. Sid Miller’s brand is his relentless oafishness, and as is often the case with politicians like him who are inexplicably successful despite everything about them, his trash mouth has not been a net negative for him. That said, you have to think there’s a decent chance he will say something truly offensive, the sort of thing that would make Clayton Williams’ rape humor look like knock-knock jokes. He has no filter, he never expects to suffer consequences for his actions, and you just know there’s a deep well of misogyny within him. It’s very easy to imagine him letting loose about about being challenged by a girl, and if that happens, who knows? He may well bring more publicity to this race – and his opponent – than he wanted, and maybe he’ll do just enough to get some Republican women to decide they’ve had it with him. Again, it’s hard to know how to evaluate this possibility. I’m just observing that the odds of it happening are greater than zero.

Paxton joins the wimp brigade

Seems fitting.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a TV interview that he would be “happy to debate anybody on the issues” as he seeks re-election this fall, but he is now backing off that offer by refusing to debate Democrat Justin Nelson as voters decide who to hire as the state’s top lawyer.

Paxton instead “will communicate directly with the voters,” his campaign spokesman, Matt Welch, wrote in an emailed statement Thursday in rejecting Nelson’s invitation to debate.

Welch did not respond when asked if Paxton’s previous offer to debate was sincere.

“I’m happy to debate anybody on the issues and I look forward to it,” Paxton said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program in November.

See here and here for the background. No one should be surprised by this. All bark no bite, all hat no cattle, all hawk no spit – pick your cliche to to describe these yellow bellies. I doubt Paxton, along with Dan Patrick and Sid Miller and George P. Bush, can feel shame, but they can probably feel ridicule, and they deserve all the Bronx cheers they get. If they refuse to debate because they don’t want to give publicity to their opponents, then let’s make their refusal to debate a story. They should not be allowed to run away and hide.

Don’t expect any other debates

Cowardice + lack of incentive = avoiding engagement.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush (son of Jeb and nephew to George W.) has no plans to go one-on-one with his challenger, Miguel Suazo — at least, not as of Tuesday, July 24.

“At this point, we’re not planning to do a debate, but we always assess things as we go forward,” Bush campaign spokesman Lee Spieckerman told The Dallas Morning News. And why not? “Voters are very aware of Commissioner Bush’s record, which is the main thing. … His performance speaks for itself.”

But perhaps it’s the spokesman for Sid Miller, the perpetually be-Stetson-ed commissioner of agriculture, who said it best. Miller’s got 719,000 followers on Facebook, after all, where he’s shared his thoughts on refugee “rattlers,” drag queens and Whoopi Goldberg. Why give his challenger a slice of that “free publicity?”

“It’ll be a cold day in Texas before we give our opponent the opportunity to have free name recognition by having a debate,” Todd M. Smith told The News on Tuesday. “As the lieutenant governor said, there’s not anybody in Texas who doesn’t know where Sid Miller stands on the issues.”

[…]

Kim Olson, who is seen as both forceful and folksy, accused Miller of running scared.

“Candidates should earn their votes, and the only way to do that is to present yourself,” Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, told The News. “It is suspect when an incumbent will not defend his record or present a vision of the future.”

Collier accused Patrick of ensconcing himself away “in his bunker, sending out audio snippets to the few supporters that remain, that are chock full of spin and nonsense,” to which Blakemore shot back with a long list of Patrick’s campaign events over the last two days, including a meeting with the Dallas Police Association, folks from UT Southwestern and a group of conservative women in Tomball.

And Suazo, the energy lawyer who wants to run the Alamo and manage the state’s mineral rights as land commissioner, said Bush should live up to his name: “Every other candidate named George Bush has debated, except this one. That’s because his record is indefensible and he knows that I’ll beat him.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s spokesman did not return calls and emails requesting comment. In a November television appearance, Paxton (who was indicted in July 2015 and is awaiting trial on fraud charges) said he would “be happy to debate anybody on the issues and look forward to it.

It was unclear if he meant an election opponent. Paxton refused to meet his challenger in 2014. His opponent this time around is Justin Nelson, a Houston attorney. On Wednesday, the Nelson campaign released a video featuring a clip of Paxton’s November appearance where he says he’d be “happy to debate anybody.”

“Sounds good, Ken,” the ad says. “Ready when you are.”

See here for the background, and here for the comparison to Ted Cruz. I love how Patrick sends his spokesperson out to fight his verbal battles for him. The Warner Brothers cartoon image of a small yappy dog hiding behind his bulldog friend while barking at a cat really comes to mind. And while one has to give Sid Miller some props for being honest about why he doesn’t want to debate anyone, especially not an icky girl like Kim Olson who surely has cooties, it’s hilarious and entirely in character that he cites Dan Patrick’s reasoning, as he lacks the originality to come up with his own. If it’s not a Facebook meme, it’s too complicated for Miller. Again, I get the rationale for not wanting to give publicity to an underfunded opponent, but the lack of confidence in their own abilities is startling. What a bunch of chickens.

Back to the barbecue battle

Once again, Sid Miller makes us pay attention to something we shouldn’t have to.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

Texas’ barbecue culture is sacred. But some pitmasters are catching heat from a former rodeo cowboy overseeing the state Department of Agriculture.

Commissioner Sid Miller is slapping fines on their small businesses despite a warning from the attorney general that his reasoning may be illegal. The department issued at least 13 citations to barbecue joints for failing to register their meat scales since September, despite a 2017 state law requiring the commissioner to leave such establishments alone. In a case of unlikely bedfellows, Miller’s commission issued nine scale-related fines to yogurt shops, too.

The department has no plans to stop.

The citations are part of a running feud between restaurant owners and Miller, a white-cowboy-hat-wearing commissioner who made it his mission to ensure the state register all scales that weigh food for customers. But the state’s restaurant association is warning the food fight could land the commissioner in court.

[…]

When you order a quarter-pound of brisket, Miller insists the meat-slinger should set it on a state-registered scale where you can read the weight. Restaurants must also pay a yearly $35 fee for each of their scales. But strictly enforcing the law could force some of Texas’ most storied smokehouses to completely change the layout of their kitchens, incurring huge remodeling costs.

It’s “patently absurd,” said Kenneth Besserman, general counsel for the Texas Restaurant Association. Some pitmasters scrambled to rewrite their menus to serve less specific amounts of meat but found that created confusion for customers, he said.

Besserman and the restaurant lobby quickly convinced the Legislature to rewrite the law, nicknaming their effort the “Barbecue Bill.” Lawmakers in 2017 almost unanimously agreed to exempt scales “exclusively used to weigh food sold for immediate consumption,” largely pertaining to barbecue restaurants, yogurt shops and certain salad bars. The governor was sold.

Nevertheless, Miller persisted. Once the bill became law, Miller used his authority to add three additional words: “on the premises.” That meant any establishment selling food to-go — as the vast majority of barbecue restaurants do — had to follow the scale laws and regulations, essentially undoing the new law.

See here and here for the background. AG Paxton has opined that Miller’s interpretation is out of bounds, and the TRA is threatening to sue. I have expressed my reluctant agreement with Miller on the merits of the 2017 law, but it is the law and a public official’s role is to obey and uphold the law, outside of situations where the law is obviously immoral or unjust. This doesn’t meet that standard, in which case Miller should be lobbying for the law to be changed, or to work to un-elect the legislators who passed it. It’s also fair to point out, as Miller’s Democratic opponent Kim Olson does in the story, that the AG ought to have other priorities than this, as there have been almost no complaints made in recent years about inaccurate barbecue scales. Of course, given the sorts of things Miller tends to do when he has a bit of free time, this is at least not horribly embarrassing. Silver linings, I suppose.

Our typically feckless state leaders

Way to set an example for the rest of us, y’all.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick frequently talk tough about illegal immigration, but they refuse to publicly support the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that’s spurred outrage for ripping thousands of undocumented children out of the arms of their parents.

Neither are they criticizing it.

Texas’ top Republicans are making a calculated decision to hide from the humanitarian crisis, largely taking place on Texas soil, because they are afraid of upsetting their political base.

The governor has tried to say as little as possible about the White House policy, making only one public comment backing Trump’s argument that the children’s and parents’ traumatic experiences can be used as leverage for an immigration overhaul.

“This is horrible and this rips everyone’s hearts apart about what’s going on,” Abbott told a Dallas-area TV station. He added that Trump had offered to “end the ripping apart of these families” if Democrats agree to a new immigration law.

Abbott declined repeated requests for comment from the Houston Chronicle. Instead, his staff forwarded the statement made last weekend to NBC TV. The governor seeks to appear loyal without attracting attention to himself.

“It shouldn’t be a tightrope to do the right thing,” said John Weaver, a longtime campaign strategist from Texas who has consulted for Republicans like George H.W. Bush and now Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “It’s disappointing that we haven’t heard from the governor but not surprising. We’ve gone from Texas having very strong leaders to having leaders who are very calculating.”

[…]

Patrick never brought up the separation policy or the border when he spoke for half an hour at the Texas Republican Party convention in San Antonio on Friday. His office and campaign have not returned repeated calls for comment.

“Dan Patrick’s silence, in the face of such brutality committed on Texas soil, makes him as culpable as the administration. Morally, it’s as though he wrenched the children from their parents with his own hands,” said Mike Collier, a Democratic businessman running against Patrick for lieutenant governor in November.

As the Lone Star Project noted, Abbott has expressed his support for the Trump detention policy previously, before it became untenable for everyone this side of Ken Paxton and Sid Miller to oppose it. I suppose he and Patrick were just taking their time and hoping this would all go away, as befitting their cowardly natures, but their absence was definitely noticed.

“What is happening on the border tonight is an affront to humanity and to all that we as proud Americans hold dear,” state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, told the American-Statesman Tuesday. “We are better than this. To watch our own governor remain silent in the face of this atrocity is an affront to all that we as Texans hold dear. As a member of the Texas Legislature, I am ashamed that my ‘so called’ leader is so controlled by his fealty to the president’s myopic vision of America that he is frightened like a feeble squirrel from taking action. It is time to act. NOW. Governor Abbott. Can you hear me?”

Both of those stories were from yesterday morning. By around lunchtime, Abbott had been forced out of his spider hole to make a few grudging remarks.

Gov. Greg Abbott is asking Texans in Congress to take bipartisan action to address the crisis of thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents.

“This disgraceful condition must end; and it can only end with action by Congress to reform the broken immigration system,” he wrote in a letter to all members of the Texas delegation, including Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

Abbott called family separations, which are the result of a Trump administration policy announced earlier this year, “tragic and heartrending.” But he also called the separations the “latest calamity children suffer because of a broken U.S. border” — and urged members to “seize” the opportunity to work across the aisle and finally fix the problem.

“Texans are not fooled by the partisan divide on this issue,” Abbott wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. “They know that even if all Republicans agree, a bill fixing the problem will not pass without Democrat support in the Senate.”

Naturally, as befitting his craven nature, Abbott hid behind the lie that Trump was forced into the family separation policy and only Democrats could save him, to which Trump himself quickly put the lie with a hasty afternoon executive order, one that has ulterior motives. But as one Democratic Senator pointed out prior to that, it was easily within the power of even one Republican Senator to force the issue. And if Greg Abbott is sincere about wanting to keep families together and make progress on immigration, here’s a bill he could support. Don’t hold your breath would be my advice. Greg Abbott always, without fail, takes the easiest way out. Vox and ThinkProgress have more.

Paxton versus Miller on barbecue

Just embrace the fact that this is the world we live in.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

A nonbinding opinion issued Monday by Attorney General Ken Paxton continues a battle between lawmakers, restaurants and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller over regulation of scales used to measure food.

Under state law, roughly 17,725 retailers, including grocery store chains, airlines, coffee houses, laundries and brisket purveyors, are required to use scales to measure what they sell to the public. Those scales are also supposed to be registered with the state so inspectors can ensure that they’re not tipped in the seller’s favor.

A law passed during last year’s legislative session, however, carved out exemptions for scales “exclusively used to weigh food sold for immediate consumption,” meaning places such as yogurt shops and barbecue joints won’t have to get their scales registered.

Miller called the law “horse hockey.”

[…]

Miller’s agency, which was charged with verifying the accuracy of the retailers’ scales, decided that businesses would only be exempt from regulation if they weighed foods to be eaten “on the premises.” But the barbecue bill’s authors argued that in determining how to implement the law, Miller’s agency misinterpreted its intent. So Miller asked Paxton for a written opinion.

Paxton sided with the barbecue joints in his opinion Monday, saying Miller’s agency went too far.

See here for the background. As I said before and as I may never say again, I think Miller had the better argument, but at least we know Ken Paxton remains consistent about siding with the moneyed interests whenever the opportunity presents itself. But who cares about any of that? This calls for a song:

Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear some brisket calling my name.

Sid Miller and the unqualified creep

I missed this when it came out last Friday, and now that I’ve seen it I wish I was still blissfully ignorant of it.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in late 2016 appointed to the state’s Rural Health Task Force a former physician and Miller campaign donor who had his medical license revoked or suspended in three states.

In Iowa, Rick Ray Redalen’s medical license was first suspended when he was convicted of perjury in a case involving his marriage to his 15-year-old former stepdaughter. The license was later revoked for good for failure to report a malpractice suit, medical board records show.

Redalen, who calls himself “the Maverick Doctor,” said he was introduced to Miller several years ago by Todd M. Smith, a lobbyist who has reported making hundreds of thousands of dollars from Redalen’s company and is Miller’s longtime political strategist.

Redalen, who donated heavily to Miller’s campaign months before his appointment, said he has used the unpaid task force position to advocate for expanded access to telemedicine — a service offered by one of his companies. Redalen said he never expected any favors in exchange for his contributions to Miller.

Miller “is one of the first actual political people that I have met that talks constantly about improving health care in rural Texas and among rural Texans. Most people aren’t interested in that,” Redalen, 75, said.

[…]

Redalen has not practiced medicine for years but hit it big in the medical business nonetheless. In 1996, he founded a company called QuestRx, which now goes by ExitCare and was sold to Elsevier in 2012. The company provides a widely used tool that provides information to patients as they are discharged from medical facilities.

As a doctor, Redalen worked in emergency rooms and as a primary care doctor and has had his license suspended or revoked in Minnesota, Iowa and Louisiana.

The disciplinary action against Redalen by Minnesota’s medical board was due to “psychiatric and drug problems,” according to a 1995 Des Moines Register article.

Redalen’s legal troubles in Iowa stemmed from his relationship with his stepdaughter, whom he married in Tarrant County while on a trip to Texas in September 1988. He had been married to her mother, who committed suicide in 1987. In 1986, Redalen pleaded guilty to assault after authorities said he struck his wife with a rifle butt and pointed a gun at sheriff’s deputies, according to the Register article.

Emphasis mine. There’s more, mostly about Redalen’s financial contributions to Miller, so go read it. I highlighted the bits I did because I want to focus on the fact that in 1988, when he was 45 years old, this man married his 15-year-old former stepdaughter, whose mother had committed suicide the year before, when she was 14. One can debate, as some experts do in the Statesman story, whether these financial arrangements constitute a violation of campaign finance regulations, and one can discuss, as Erica Greider does, Miller’s long history of not caring about his mostly rural consituents, if one wants. I can’t get past the fact that Rick Ray Redalen was a 45-year-old man who married a 15-year-old girl, a 15-year-old girl who used to be his STEPDAUGHTER. I’m unable to think of a good reason why a decent person would want to form a relationship with such a man, whether political or financial or otherwise. Sid Miller is quite infamous for questioning on social media the morals of people who are not like him. Frankly, anyone whose morals are different than Sid Miller’s should be happy about that.

2018 primary results: Statewide

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

(Please note that all results were coming in very slowly. I expect there will still be some precincts not yet reported by the time this publishes. So, I’m going to be less specific than usual, and may have to make a correction or two by Thursday.)

No real surprises here. Lupe Valdez and Andrew White will fight it out in the runoff. They combined for about 70% of the vote. Beto O’Rourke was a bit over 60% on his way to the Senate nomination. To be honest, I thought he’d score higher than that, but whatever. Statewide primaries are hard.

Miguel Suazo was near 70% for Land Commissioner, and Roman McAllen was near 60% for Railroad Commissioner. Mike Collier was leading by about seven points for Lt. Governor. The closest race was for Comptroller, where Joi Chevalier had a tiny lead over Tim Mahoney.

On the Republican side, Greg Abbott (90%), Ted Cruz (85%), Dan Patrick (75%), and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick (75%), who I didn’t even realize had an opponent, all cruised. Baby Bush and Sid Miller were in the high 50’s and so also on their way to renomination. That means the only statewide runoff will be for the Democratic gubernatorial race.

One note on turnout: In 2014, there were 554,014 total votes cast in the Democratic primary for Governor. The early vote tally for the Dem gubernatorial primary was 555,002. So yeah, turnout was up. Republicans will probably have 30-40% more total turnout statewide, but I fully expect Dems to top one million at this point.

UT/TT poll: Trump approval more or less the same as before

A tad bit more positive than last time, but still nothing to write home about.

With the usual disclaimers about partisan imbalance, President Donald Trump’s job approval ratings are holding steady, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Overall, equal numbers of Texas voters approve and disapprove of the job Trump is doing. Beneath that, the poll found, Republicans are highly supportive, with 83 percent saying they approve, while 84 percent of Democrats say they disapprove. The president’s numbers are remarkably similar to those in last February’s UT/TT Poll — the first survey after Trump took office. Then, as now, Republicans were solidly behind him and Democrats were solidly against him, making the blended numbers appear balanced.

[…]

The contrasting voter impressions of the state’s two Republican U.S. senators continue. John Cornyn had approving marks from 29 percent of all voters, 47 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats. Overall, 38 percent of voters disapprove of the job Cornyn’s doing as the second-highest-ranking member of the Senate majority’s leadership. That’s driven by the disapproval of 59 percent of Texas Democrats.

Ted Cruz, who is up for re-election this year, gets about the same number of good grades — 40 percent — and bad ones — 41 percent. As with other officeholders, it’s about party, but only Trump’s numbers are as strongly divided on those lines. Cruz’s high grades from 72 percent of Republicans are offset by his bad grades from 73 percent of Democrats.

In another question, voters were asked their opinion of Cruz, which yielded similar results. Overall, 40 percent said they have a favorable impression of him and 42 percent have an unfavorable one. It’s a party thing, with 71 percent of Democrats holding negative opinions and 70 percent of Republicans holding positive ones. Fewer than one in five said they had no opinion at all.

Contrast that with his likely general election opponent, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. The El Paso Democrat has never been on a statewide ballot, and it shows, with 58 percent of all voters saying they have neither a favorable nor an unfavorable opinion of him. Among Democrats, 52 percent have a favorable opinion of O’Rourke, 4 percent have an unfavorable opinion and 44 percent have no opinion at all. Among Republicans, 8 percent were favorable, 22 percent were unfavorable and 70 percent were neither positive nor negative.

Gov. Greg Abbott remains the most popular elected state official, if job assessments are the measure. Overall, 46 percent said he’s doing a good job and 31 percent said he’s not. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s numbers almost break into three equal parts: 36 percent approval, 33 percent disapproval and 31 percent neutral. And House Speaker Joe Straus, who is not seeking another term, remains the least well-known high official in Austin: 27 percent approve of the job he’s doing, 24 percent disapprove and 48 percent remain neutral.

For comparison purposes:

UT/Trib, February 2017, 46 approve/44 disapprove
UT/Trib, June 2017, 43 approve/51 disapprove
UT/Trib, October 2017, 45 approve/49 disapprove
UT/Trib, February 2018, 46 approve/46 disapprove

There are other pollsters that have shown poorer results for Trump in the past year. For apples to apples purposes, the numbers above all come from the UT/Trib poll. This was Trump’s best showing since last February, and it may represent the passage of the tax bill, the onset of primary season and the partisan stirrings that brings, random variations, some combination of the above, or something else entirely. I think his numbers are more likely to sag a big going forward than improve, and there’s always the chance that some factor like the Mueller investigation could cause him to crater. Overall, though, I think this is more or less what we should expect.

What does it mean? Well, overall probably not much. Not because of anything having to do with this poll or any other poll, but because for November purposes I don’t think the right questions are being asked, or more to the point I don’t think the right people are being asked. We all know this election is about who will turn out, so why not focus on the voters who are the biggest variables in that? What I’d love to see are surveys of 1) Democratic voters who turned out in 2016 and 2012 and 2008 but not 2010 or 2014; 2) people who voted for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in 2016 and who have a history of voting in the off years; and 3) Republicans who voted for Clinton in 2016. Ask them what their plans are for this year, and maybe you’ll get a better idea of what to expect in 8.5 months.

And on a related note:

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are far ahead of their Republican primary opponents in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, but the Democrats running for those two high offices face more difficult paths to their party’s nomination.

Two other statewide Republican incumbents — Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller — have the support of a majority of likely primary voters, but with a caveat. When those voters had the option of saying they weren’t ready to make a choice, 44 percent listed no preference in the land race and 60 percent said the same in the agriculture race.

With high numbers of undecided voters, Bush led his primary with 36 percent of the vote, and Miller led his with 27 percent. Only when they were asked how they’d vote if they had to make a choice now did the majorities appear for the incumbents.

[…]

The Democratic primary for governor is a muddle, with two clear frontrunners and no candidate close to enough votes to win without a runoff. Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez had the support of 43 percent of likely primary voters responding to the poll, while Andrew White of Houston had 24 percent. If no candidate gets a majority, the top two finishers will go to a May runoff. Grady Yarbrough and Tom Wakely each got 7 percent in that primary poll, Adrian Ocegueda and Jeffrey Payne got 5 percent, and Cedric Davis Sr., Joe Mumbach and James Jolly Clark each got 4 percent or less.

The Democratic race for lieutenant governor won’t end in a runoff — there are only two candidates. But their names are similar — Mike Collier and Michael Cooper — and their numbers are close. Collier, whose name was on the statewide ballot four years ago when he ran for comptroller, got 55 percent in the latest UT/TT Poll. Cooper got 45 percent.

“You have two lieutenant governor candidates whose names are very similar to one another, who have received very little public attention and who are not very well known,” Henson said.

The Trib’s primary polls from 2014 were, in a word, trash. They were worse than useless, and they didn’t have a strong track record in Democratic primary polls before that. Their November polling has been good, but I emphatically advise you to take any and all of their March numbers as being strictly for entertainment purposes only. You have been warned.

Endorsement watch: Republican roundup

The Chron makes a conventional choice in CD02.

Poe’s vacancy has attracted nine contenders in the Republican primary, and we encourage voters to look for a candidate who will aspire to embody the party’s values while also striving to represent a vast district.

Two candidates appear to lead the pack in this heated race: one-term state Rep. Kevin Roberts and wealthy activist Kathaleen Wall. However, both have developed a reputation for avoiding panels and other public events where they’ll stand alongside the seven other challengers. That tactic may be politically clever, but we get a sense that it frustrates voters.

Nevertheless, Roberts remains the best choice in this race. He works as executive director for the Lanier Law Firm and has been endorsed by Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle. Support from county officials is a sign of faith in Roberts to advocate for Houston’s flood control needs at a federal level – the single most important issue in the 2018 election.

It is worth noting that Roberts, 52, successfully authored and passed a resolution during the last legislative session urging Congress to provide sufficient funding for the construction of a storm surge barrier along the Texas coast – well before Hurricane Harvey. The carrots and sticks of party politics don’t usually encourage that kind of smart advocacy, so it falls on primary voters to reward Roberts’ push for a long-term investment in our region.

[…]

Meanwhile, voters in this primary should avoid Wall, who has spent around $2.7 million of her family’s money on this primary race alone. Writing a check is no substitute for a proven track-record. Wall has little in her resume to show that she’ll be an effective representative in Congress for either the Republican base or for Houston overall.

Republicans are going to face a tougher contest than they’re used to in this changing district, and Wall’s unrelentingly pro-Trump campaign is going make it hard to win over moderate voters in November. Or worse, her antics could energize the deep-blue Montrose-area precincts that already can’t wait to vote against anything that even sounds like Trump.

I don’t think we’ll need any more incentive, but thanks for thinking of us. Frankly, I expect we’ll all still be dealing with the PTSD from Wall’s nonstop barrage of awful TV ads.

Meanwhile, the Chron observes the maxim that it is always a good time to vote against Sid Miller.

“We like to eat, we like to wear clothes and we like to put gas in our cars. All three of those things are affected by the Department of Agriculture.”

That’s how Trey Blocker succinctly describes the importance of the agency he wants to manage. Blocker is unquestionably the best qualified candidate running in the Republican primary for Texas agriculture commissioner. Anybody who’s been paying attention to the news coming out of this corner of Austin during the last couple of years knows it needs new leadership.

Blocker is a conservative ethics lawyer offended by what he calls “corruption and crony capitalism” in state government, but he’s also spent decades working as a lobbyist for the farming and ranching communities. Ask him anything about the myriad duties performed by the Texas Department of Agriculture and he’ll tell you not only how things work, but also how they need to change.

[…]

Texas voters are lucky that Blocker decided to enter this race, because he’s a well-qualified, conservative Republican alternative to Sid Miller. Even if you don’t follow state government very closely, you may have heard about the shenanigans of this embarrassing incumbent.

Miller claims he’s conservative, but he doesn’t act like one. After angering farmers and business owners by raising a host of regulatory fees, he gave employees of his agency more than $400,000 in bonuses. He used taxpayer money for a trip to Oklahoma where he got a so-called “Jesus shot” for chronic pain. He also traveled to Mississippi on the state’s dime where it so happened he wanted to participate in a rodeo. The Texas Rangers ended up investigating both incidents, and Miller ended up reimbursing the state’s coffers.

The incumbent agriculture commissioner needs to be put out to pasture. Republican primary voters should throw their support to Trey Blocker.

The competition for worst elected official in Texas is fierce, but beyond a doubt Sid Miller is a championship contender. Honestly, to be much worse you’d have to be engineered in a lab.

And to complete the trifecta of terribleness, we meet up with one of the local contenders for “worst elected official” in this Republican Justice of the Peace primary.

November comes early this year. No Democrats have signed up to run for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 2, which means that this Republican primary essentially functions as the general election.

Voters should feel comfortable reelecting current Justice of the Peace Jeff Williams to a third term in this sprawling west Harris County precinct.

Williams, a graduate of the South Texas College of Law Houston, exudes enthusiastic competence when discussing his job overseeing this low-level court, which handles more than 100,000 cases each year.

[…]

Williams’ challenger, J.R. Harris, said he would encourage landlord groups to go above and beyond the legal minimum to prevent evictions in the first place. Harris, a graduate of the South Texas College of Law Houston, currently works at the Harris County Attorney’s Office and has experience with the tax assessor’s office. He has the makings of a fine justice of the peace, but there’s no reason to boot Williams from office.

Both candidates had kind words about the other, and saved their criticism for Mike Wolfe, who declined to meet for an interview.

Both Williams and Harris said that they believe Wolfe had been put forward as a candidate by a reactionary anti-LGBT wing of the Republican Party hoping to fight same-sex marriage.

Yes, that’s the same Michael Wolfe from the HCDE; the editorial covers some of his more egregious recent actions on the Board. We’ll get a shot at ousting him in 2020, assuming he hasn’t been moved into this much safer seat in March. You’ll only be screwing yourselves if you vote him in here, Republicans.

The Republican primary for Ag Commissioner is now about barbecue

Because of course it is.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

“Barbecue might be America’s most political food,” wrote the New Yorker earlier this year. The claim certainly applies to the 2018 race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner. Instead of farming or ranching issues, it’s Sid Miller’s recent history on barbecue that his Republican primary opponent, Trey Blocker, is using against him.

For some brief background, the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) launched a program called Operation Maverick in 2015 to enforce, among other things, the requirement that barbecue joint scales be certified and registered, a rule that hadn’t been enforced in the past. Backlash from small business owners resulted in House Bill 2029, aka the “Barbecue Bill,” during this year’s legislative session. The bill, which exempted barbecue joints (and yogurt shops) from the regulation, easily passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June. The TDA then revised the wording of the bill—which had exempted “food sold for immediate consumption”—by adding “on the premises” in the rewritten regulation. Those three new words meant that any barbecue joint selling food to-go was no longer exempt. The Texas Restaurant Association cried foul, and the TDA asked Attorney General Ken Paxton for a ruling that is forthcoming. This has all become fuel in a food fight between the candidates.

The first shot came a few weeks ago from Miller, who mocked Blocker for holding a fundraiser at a restaurant that served Nutella crepes. Miller acted as if he didn’t know what Nutella was, despite only seeing the “tella” portion of the word on the blackboard sign behind Blocker in a photo from the event (which, for the record, was held at the Old German Bakery & Restaurant in Fredericksburg).

Blocker fired back with a fundraising email that described Miller’s stance as a “war on Texas BBQ.” Now, calling a Texan anti-barbecue is about on par with calling them un-Texan, but Blocker didn’t stop there. Over the weekend, he followed up with two campaign videos focused squarely on barbecue.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I don’t see anything wrong with what Miller did. I get why the TRA didn’t care for it, but I’m all for consumer protections, and that’s how I see this. All that said, this primary is already making us all stupider. Just vote for Kim Olson in November and all of this can be naught but a bad memory. The Chron and Texas Public Radio have more.

Sid Miller gets a primary opponent

But what will our village do without its idiot if ol’ Sid loses?

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is getting a primary challenge from Trey Blocker, the longtime lobbyist, ethics adviser and attorney from Austin.

“I’m running because we need to bring honesty, integrity and fiscal responsibility back to the Department of Agriculture,” Blocker said in a video announcing his campaign 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.”

Blocker’s long-rumored run against Miller sets up potentially the most serious primary challenge yet to a statewide official in 2018. Miller is seeking a second term after three years on the job marked by a number of high-profile controversies, ranging from a Texas Rangers investigation into out-of-state, taxpayer-funded trips he took — no charges were ever brought — to the time his Twitter account sent out a message using the c-word to refer to Hillary Clinton.

Miller courted controversy early in his first term, when he pushed for dramatic fee hikes for a wide range of services the department offers — a move that irked farmers, ranchers and his former colleagues in the Texas House. A state audit later found that the higher fees generated millions more dollars than those programs cost to operate in 2016.

“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.”

While Blocker is critical of Miller’s leadership of the Texas Department of Agriculture, the challenger also is looking to provide a contrast with the incumbent on one of the biggest issues in Republican primaries: immigration. “I don’t think we’re tough enough on the immigration issue,” Blocker said in another video Wednesday, calling for a “moratorium on current levels of immigration until we have true reform.”

A career lobbyist who is also an immigration hardliner? Throw in religious extremism and you’ve got the modern Republican trifecta. If you’d prefer a candidate who’s actually worth voting for, you might check out Kim Olson. We can do so much better than either of these two jokers.

Can anyone beat Greg Abbott?

It’s early days and all that, but the evidence at hand now isn’t positive.

The reason for that is fairly simple. A poll circulating among the state’s Democratic leadership—which I was given on the agreement that I would not identify its source, but I have confirmed the information with additional Democratic operatives—shows Abbott is currently the most popular politician in Texas, with less than 30 percent of the state’s voters viewing him unfavorably. If the election had been held when the poll was conducted this summer among 1,000 registered Texans likely to vote in 2016, Abbott would have received 49 percent of the vote, and a Democrat to be named later would have scored 38 percent. That’s about the same percentage of the vote Democrat Wendy Davis received in her 2014 loss to Abbott. The poll also notes that Abbott’s name identification among voters was 91 percent. Castro’s was 44 percent. It was not a general survey of voters, because it oversampled Hispanics and voters in some targeted state House districts. About 37 percent of the respondents were Democrats, 19 percent independents, and 44 percent Republicans.

I only received a portion of the survey relating primarily to Abbott and the president, but it seems to show that the Donald Trump effect that Democrats have been hoping for is missing in Texas. Although the president’s personal favorable/unfavorable rating and job approval is about even, Abbott’s job approval was 61 percent, followed by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz at 55 percent. Not to mention that a whopping 76 percent of Texans had a positive view of the state’s economy—a key metric for incumbents.

Still, these numbers are in no small part because Abbott is Governor Bland. When asked whether he has ever done anything to make respondents proud, half said no, while less than 40 percent said yes. Has he ever done anything to make you angry? Sixty-seven percent said no.

The poll did produce some useful takeaways for Democrats though. For instance, 82 percent of poll respondents said the Legislature spends too much time on issues like the bathroom bill. President Trump’s health care proposals and plan to build a wall on the Texas border were opposed by half of those surveyed, and 65 percent said the state’s Medicaid program should be expanded to provide health care to more people. Fifty-eight percent opposed dividing families to deport undocumented immigrants, but support for the sanctuary cities law was split 40-40. The remaining 20 percent had no opinion.

[…]

But the biggest problem for Democrats with Abbott is that a sacrificial lamb candidate, or even a wealthy candidate who runs a poor campaign, can have a negative effect on candidates in down-ballot races.

So the other idea is to skip the governor’s race to concentrate on incumbents such as Patrick and Cruz. CPA Mike Collier, who ran an unsuccessful race for comptroller last year, has announced against Patrick, who is closely linked to the unpopular bathroom bill. There also are other potential down-ballot state races where the incumbent might be vulnerable, such as Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who has been making bad publicity a habit. Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is under indictment on securities fraud charges, and I’m told several attorneys are looking at mounting a challenge against him. Paxton’s trial is scheduled to begin jury selection on the same day as the party primaries filing deadline, December 11.

That’s from RG Ratcliffe, and I trust his reporting. The UT/Trib polls have always shown Abbott to be more popular than his peers, and I think Ratcliffe nails the reason why – Abbott is as dull as cardboard, so he gets the credit for things that people like without carrying the weight of being the villain, like Patrick or Cruz. I note that Ratcliffe has nothing to add about those two, which may be because the poll in question didn’t include them or possibly because he was not given clearance to talk about that stuff. I fully expect that the numbers look better for Dems against those two, though “better” does not mean “good enough to realistically think about winning”. All one can do here is speculate.

Ratcliffe suggests the best case scenario for Dems at the state level is for a self-funder to get in and spend enough to be competitive, at least in that category, with Abbott. I’ll wait to see who such a person may be and what he or she has to say about the issues before I sign off on that. An interesting question is what Abbott will do if he doesn’t have to spend much if any of his campaign fortune to get re-elected. Will he drop $20-30 million on a general get-out-the-Republican vote strategy, in the name of holding on to competitive seats and making gains where they are makable while maybe also knocking off some “RINOs” in the primaries, or will he prefer to hoard his gold, for the ego boost of seeing big numbers next to his name and to scare off the competition in 2022?

I don’t know yet what I think the effect of Abbott being functionally unopposed will be on other races. Patrick and Paxton and Miller all present fairly large attack surfaces, and of course Beto O’Rourke is doing his own thing and continuing to get favorable national press for his campaign. And for what it’s worth, O’Rourke isn’t sweating his lack of company at the very top of the ticket.

U.S. Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke said this week he isn’t worried that Democrats haven’t found a viable candidate to run for governor of Texas.

“The only thing I can do is what I can do. I can control our campaign,” O’Rourke told The Dallas Morning News during a campaign stop at the University of Texas at Dallas. “I’m not concerned. There’s clearly something different in Texas right now … folks are coming out like I’ve never seen before. As word gets out, as people see that, there’s going to be a greater interest in getting into the race.”

[…]

[TDP Chair Gilberto] Hinojosa and other Democrats insist they will have a candidate to run against Abbott. The filing period for the 2018 elections closes in December.

O’Rourke hopes there will be a full, qualified slate.

“I’m optimistic, but I can’t control it,” he said. “I try not to think about it too much.”

I mean, what else is he going to say? It’s not a problem until it is, I suppose, and that will happen when and if the first slew of crash-into-reality polls start coming down. Until then, Beto’s got his own fish to fry.

Warning labels, schmarning labels

Sid Miller, ladies and gentlemen, addressing the concerns of rancher Bruce Hunnicutt about the use of poison to try to control the feral hog population.

Hunnicutt, 58, operates a hog hunting business on 30,000 acres — he owns 600 and leases another 24,000 — in Northeast Texas. He regularly sends the meat of the pigs they kill home with his clients.

When he couldn’t find answers online, he called the agriculture department to get more information. To his surprise, he got a return call from Commissioner Sid Miller, who assured Hunnicutt the poison would be safe to humans and other wildlife, and directed him to his Facebook page for more information on the poison that’s marketed under the name Kaput.

When Hunnicutt found the product’s label, he was so alarmed he called his state representative.

“That label didn’t look anything like what the man [Miller] told me on the phone —I thought, ‘My god, that can’t be right — people can’t eat this,’ ” he said. “How in the world can you put something in the human food chain that can kill somebody, to kill an animal that people eat?”

When he traveled to Austin to meet with Rep. Gary VanDeaver, he got the chance to address Miller in person.

In the March 3 meeting set up by VanDeaver’s office, which was recorded with Miller’s permission, the commissioner responded to some of Hunnicutt’s safety concerns by saying that his agency could change the poison’s federally approved label to eliminate an important warning — as well as a requirement to bury the carcasses of poisoned hogs, which Miller said simply wasn’t “doable.”

In the recording, which Hunnicutt provided to The Texas Tribune, Hunnicutt says: “That product label right there says ‘all animals’ … every one of them has to be recovered and put 18 inches under the ground. How you going to do that? … How you going to find all of them, Mr. Miller?”

“I guess we should take that off the label, it’s not doable,” Miller says. “We’ll take it off.”

Hunnicutt then referred to the label’s warnings about the dangers of the poison to other wildlife and domesticated animals.

“Animals that feed on those carcasses are going to die. It can kill them,” he told Miller. “Whether you say it or not, the label says it will.”

Miller responded: “We can adjust that too.”

The meeting lasted about 30 minutes, growing increasingly tense, before Miller finally stood up and walked out.

“It’s like he wasn’t listening to me, he had his mind made up, he had his little dog and pony show he’s been putting on this whole time,” Hunnicutt said.

See here for the background. I mean, who even reads warning labels, am I right? They can say whatever you want them to, no one will be the wiser. I have no idea how ol’ Sid didn’t get picked to be Trump’s ag secretary. They’re two unregulated peas in a pod. The Press has more.

No more feral hog poison

It was not to be.

The manufacturer of a controversial bait used to kill feral hogs withdrew its state registration for the poison, putting Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s plans for a Texas “Hog Apocalypse” on hold.

“We have received tremendous support from farmers and ranchers in the State of Texas, and have empathy for the environmental devastation, endangered species predation, and crop damage being inflicted there by a non-native animal,” Colorado-based company Scimetrics wrote in a news release Monday. “However, under the threat of many lawsuits, our family owned company cannot at this time risk the disruption of our business and continue to compete with special interests in Texas that have larger resources to sustain a lengthy legal battle.”

Earlier this year, Miller announced that he wanted to use the poison to take out the state’s invasive feral hog population and that using the poison could save the Department of Agriculture $900,000 that was designated for feral hog control. He wrote that the poison could mean “the ‘Hog Apocalypse’ may finally be on the horizon.”

The poison was classified as a “state-limited use pesticide,” which means anyone wishing to use it must be licensed by the department. Scimetrics withdrawing its registration means the department can no longer license people to use the poison — a move Miller called a “kick in the teeth for rural Texas.”

“Unfortunately, it seems that once again the hard working folks who turn the dirt and work from sunup to sundown have fallen victim to lawyers, environmental radicals and the misinformed,” Miller said in a prepared statement. “Once again, politically correct urban media hacks and naysayers win out against the rural folks who produce the food and fiber everyone needs.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Just for the record, the bill to require a state study of the use of any pesticide in this manner – which was filed by a Republican from Denton – passed the House by a vote of 128-13. Who knew there were so many “environmental radicals” in the Legislature? Clearly, the place has gone to hell since ol’ Sid was there. This doesn’t have to be the end for warfarin, the poison in question. There’s no reason why a study on its environmental effects couldn’t be done. Maybe a Texas governmental agency with an interest in such a study – like, say, oh, I don’t know, the Texas Department of Agriculture – could put up some grant money to fund one. Just a thought. The Trib has more.

Hog apocalypse update

The poison plan for controlling feral hogs is set to be put on pause by the Legislature.

A bill poised to pass the Texas House would amend the Texas Agriculture Code to prohibit the Department of Agriculture from registering, approving for use or allowing use of any pesticide for feral hog control unless a study by a state agency or university recommends such action.

That legislation – HB 3451, by Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton – was filed in the wake of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s emergency rules issued earlier this year (and since suspended by a state judge) that set regulations for use of the first pesticide approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for use controlling feral hogs. Texas holds more than 2 million feral hogs, an invasive species causing significant environmental and economic damage in the state. While extermination of feral hogs is almost universally approved by Texans, the move allowing use of the pesticide proved controversial, drawing intense opposition from a wide range of individuals and organizations concerned about the potential negative effects on humans and non-target animals from warfarin, the pesticide’s active ingredient.

Stucky’s bill, which has more than 120 House members as co-sponsors, sailed through its committee hearing, initial procedural readings on the House floor and could see final passage by the House as soon as this week.

The bill can expect to be well received in the Texas Senate, where a companion bill – SB 1454 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin – has almost a third of the Senate as co-sponsors.

See here and here for the background. That column was published on Wednesday. HB3451 was postponed, first till Thursday and then till Monday, at which time it was overwhelmingly approved by the full House.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s push to use a warfarin-based poison to kill feral hogs in the state has a long list of opponents that now includes more than two-thirds of the Legislature where Miller once served.

House lawmakers voted 128 to 13 to preliminarily approve legislation Monday that would require state agency or university research before the use of lethal pesticides on wild pigs. A companion bill in the Senate has 10 co-sponsors.

[…]

A coalition of hunters, animal rights advocates, conservationists and meat processors has mobilized against the use of the poison. The Texas State Rifle Association, Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, the Texas Hog Hunters Association and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association are all among the groups that support the bill.

Lotta love for ol’ Sid there. SB1454 has not had a committee hearing yet. Sure seems likely this will pass, especially given that House vote, but it’s never over till it’s over in the Lege. There’s more about other outdoors-related bills in that column, so check it out if that’s your thing.

Let’s have a study of that hog apocalypse first

Maybe we should figure out what the effects of poisoning feral hogs might be before we start poisoning them.

Two bills from Texas lawmakers — state Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin — would require state agency or university research before the use of lethal pesticides on wild pigs.

The legislation comes after outcry from Texas hog hunters and meat processors over state approval of a new feral hog poison called Kaput, which they say would hurt their businesses and contaminate other game animals and livestock. A state judge issued a temporary restraining order against the rule on March 2. Wild Boar Meat, the Hubbard-based company that sued to stop use of the poison, processes hog meat to sell to pet food companies.

Kaput contains a chemical called Warfarin, which at varying concentrations is used as a rat poison and a blood thinner in humans. It causes hogs that consume it to die of internal bleeding, a process that takes four to seven days.

House Bill 3451 and Senate Bill 1454, both filed this week, would require scientific studies of the poison to include controlled field trials and assess the economic consequences to the state’s property owners, hunters, and agriculture industry.

[…]

When Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced a state rule change in February that allowed the use of Kaput — which the Environmental Protection Agency approved for feral hog control earlier this year — he called the poison a “long overdue” solution to the extensive damage the wild pigs cause every year.

“The ‘Hog Apocalypse’ may finally be on the horizon,” said Miller, who as a state legislator passed a measure known as the “pork-chopper bill” that allowed the hunting of hogs by helicopter in 2011.

The department has defended the new rule, saying it imposes licensing restrictions to protect against misuse of the poison.

See here for the background. On the one hand, it’s long been clear that hunting the hogs, even with no restrictions or bag limits and even from helicopters, will never be enough to slow down the population growth. Warfarin is approved by the EPA, and it just might work. On the other hand, it’s hard to take seriously any claim by Sid Miller that’s he’s being a careful and conscientious steward of the environment. On balance, I’d say it’s better to be a bit more deliberate with this.

If you can’t porkchop ’em, poison ’em

The war on feral hogs enters a new phase.

At a Feb. 21 news conference in Austin, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced the agency had issued a rule that would allow Kaput Feral Hog Bait, a pesticide containing the anticoagulant warfarin as its active ingredient, to be used in the control of feral hogs. The emergency rule, issued Feb. 6, makes Texas the first and, so far, only state to adopt regulations allowing the use of a lethal toxicant – poison – to control the invasive swine.

Miller, who as a member of the Texas Legislature in 2011 sponsored a successful bill allowing aerial gunning of feral hogs by private citizens with the permission of landowners, trumpeted the new rule as a significant advance in the state’s ongoing war against feral hogs, which compete with native wildlife, carry and transmit diseases such as brucellosis, and annually cause tens of millions of dollars in damage to property, including an estimated $50 million in annual losses to agriculture.

“I am pleased to announce that the ‘feral hog apocalypse’ may be within Texans’ reach with the introduction of Kaput’s hog lure,” Miller said.

Miller’s action was made possible by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s conditional registration last month of Kaput Feral Hog Bait under the federal statutes governing pesticide use across the country. Kaput, the brand name of pesticides produced by Colorado-based Scimetrics Ltd. Corp., is the first and, so far, only toxicant approved by federal authorities for use in feral-hog control.

Warfarin, laced in prepared baits designed to be eaten by feral hogs, is toxic to pigs in the same way that it is lethal to rats, mice and other rodents for which the substance has been used as a toxicant for more than 60 years. Warfarin has therapeutic uses – it is one of the most common medications taken by humans as a blood-clot preventive. But ingested in sufficient quantities by some mammals, warfarin triggers fatal internal hemorrhaging.

Warfarin’s effects are anything but therapeutic in pigs. Feral hogs’ physiology makes them susceptible to warfarin’s toxic effects at a much lower dose than almost any other animal, research has shown. The percentage of warfarin the Kaput Feral Hog Bait approved by EPA is 0.005 percent by weight – five times lower than the 0.025 percent warfarin by weight used in rats/mice baits.

The poison has proven very effective at killing feral hogs, according to research conducted in Texas by Genesis Labs, a sister company of Scimetrics.

[…]

To limit exposure of non-target species such as deer, raccoons, birds and other that might ingest the baits, protocols for distributing it mandate use of a specially designed feeder with a heavy “guillotine” door that must be lifted to access the bait. Feral hogs have little trouble using their stout snouts to lift the door, while the door’s weight and mode of operation stymies most other wildlife.

Additionally, use of the pig poison in Texas will be restricted. Under the rule change announced by Miller, the warfarin-based bait is classified as a “state-limited-use pesticide,” and it can be purchased and used only by state-licensed pesticide applicators.

Landowners or others who want to use the hog toxicant on property in Texas and who do not hold the required license will have to hire a licensed applicator to legally set up the approved bait dispensers and distribute the bait. That almost certainly will limit its use.

Some Texans would rather it not be used at all.

In the wake of Miller’s announcement, the Texas Hog Hunters Association initiated an online petition to have the rule revoked. The group cites concerns about the potential human health effects of eating feral hogs that have ingested the warfarin-infused baits as well as questions about collateral damage to non-target species such as deer or domestic dogs that ingest treated baits and possible secondary poisoning of animals and protected birds such as hawks and eagles.

As of early Saturday, the online petition at change.org had garnered 10,400 supporters.

Texas Department of Agriculture statements counter those concerns, noting the low levels of warfarin in hogs that consume the baits pose little threat to humans, especially if they avoid eating the animal’s liver, where most of the warfarin will be concentrated. Also, the bait contains a blue dye that transfers that color to the fatty tissues of hogs. Hunters taking a hog and finding blue-tinted fat can decline to eat the animal.

Here’s the petition in question. It turns out that these hunting groups did more than just create a petition, and they got some results.

A Waco-area feral hog processor on Monday said he was racing to get a bill filed that would shoot down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s call for a “hog apocalypse” through use of a poisonous bait.

Will Herring, owner of Wild Boar Meats, last week won a court order temporarily halting Miller’s Feb. 21 rule allowing use of “Kaput Feral Hog Lure,” arguing the measure would spook pet food companies he sells to and put him out of business. Herring said he’d since secured Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-Bryan, as primary sponsor for legislation that would require study of chemicals before they are approved. The deadline to file bills for the current state legislative session is Friday.

“All our bill says is, ‘Let’s have a state agency and/or state educational institution study this poison and any other poison before it before it becomes legal,’” Herring said from Austin, where he was recruiting state lawmakers to back the bill. “There’s not one public study, and by public study I mean a study available to the public, that has looked at using the product Kaput to poison feral hogs.”

[…]

Herring said he was processing as many as 5,000 hogs a month and was getting ready to break ground on a new facility when Miller announced a rule that could potentially put he and other wild hog processors out of business.

“We have not developed a way to test for it, nor have we developed a way to inactivate it,” Herring said. “If someone said, ‘Look, I only want to buy warfarin-free wild hog meat,’ we do not know a way that we could guarantee that. And that’s a problem to me.

“It’s not just me that’s concerned about this,” Herring added. “I only do the pet food business. There’s a couple of companies that deal with the human consumption business, and it’s the same issue.”

Herring last Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Miller’s rule, with the Texas Hog Hunters Association and Environmental Defense Fund filing supporting briefs. State District Judge Jan Soifer in Austin on Thursday issued a temporary restraining order stopping Kaput use in Texas until March 30, saying the TDA did not follow the Texas Administrative Procedures Act and agreeing that allowing Kaput would cause “immediate and irreparable harm” to Wild Boar Meats.

All right then. I have some sympathy for the hunters here, because introducing poison into the environment, even in a fairly controlled fashion like this, carries a higher level of risk. Even with the protocols in place, there’s no way to fully prevent unintended consequences of this. It should be noted that this isn’t the first attempt at poisoning the pigs, but it is the first one with an EPA-approved toxin. We’ll see how this plays out in court, and I’ll keep my eyes open for an anti-warfarin bill in the Lege; as of yesterday, I didn’t see anything authored by Rep. Kacal that sounds like this.

Texas Dems look to 2018

I have a few things to say about this.

Just because

A tight-knit group of Texas Democratic leaders traveled to the state capital [in late January] to begin preliminary conversations about the 2018 midterm races.

According to over a dozen interviews with Texas Democratic insiders and national Democrats with ties to the state, the meeting included some of the party’s most well-known figures from Texas including former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Texas Democratic Party Finance Chairman Mike Collier, former state Sen. Wendy Davis, state Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and state Reps. Rafael Anchia of Dallas and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie.

Their main agenda: mapping out a strategy for the 2018 midterm elections.

The expectations in the room were not soaring but were cautiously hopeful. That optimism was mostly rooted around one person: President Donald Trump.

“I think 2018 will be the most favorable environment Texas Democrats have had in a midterm election in well over a decade,” said Turner, who declined to comment on the meeting. “I think when you look at the actions of the Trump administration just three weeks in, you’re seeing a president with historically low approval ratings in what should be a honeymoon period, and no indication that’s going to change given his divisive actions.”

Trump’s presidency brings together a confluence of several factors that Democrats hope will get candidates over the line: a stronger-than-past Texas Democratic performance last November in urban centers, the traditional backlash against a sitting president in the midterms and an increasingly expected added drag that Trump will create for Republicans.

The Democratic calculation is that in this unpredictable and angry climate, a full 2018 slate could produce a surprising win or two statewide or down-ballot.

[…]

Sources say no decisions were made on whom should run in which slot, nor was that widely discussed. Instead, the emphasis was on ensuring that state leaders would work together to present the strongest slate possible.

And also unlike past cycles, the Democratic planning this term centers on the political climate, rather than on a singularly compelling personality running for governor.

That the meeting happened at the outset of the state’s legislative session was also no coincidence. Democrats sense an opportunity to win over some of the business community, particularly as the “bathroom bill” touted by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick continues to percolate at the state Capitol and as immigration, and particularly Trump’s proposals for a border wall and Mexican tariffs, roil national politics.

Parker did emphasize to the Tribune that the conversations about 2018 are happening throughout the state.

“It’s never going to be about what a small group of people said or do in a room,” she said. “It’s about what the people of Texas tell us what they need. Many of us have committed to going out and having those conversations.”

[…]

Since the Jan. 27 meeting, Julian Castro, the most-speculated Democratic contender to take on Gov. Greg Abbott, has made clear he is unlikely to run statewide in 2018. He all but closed the door on that possibility in an early morning tweet Thursday.

Instead, the most frequently floated gubernatorial candidate is Collier, a 2014 state comptroller candidate. Collier is relatively unknown statewide but impressed several Democrats in that previous run. He has also been suggested as a possible contender to run for lieutenant governor.

It’s the U.S. Senate race that is quickly becoming the center of the Democratic world, in part because of the incumbent, Cruz, and because of the two Democratic up-and-comers mulling runs: O’Rourke and Joaquin Castro.

Both men are in the same 2012 congressional class and are considered friendly with each other.

Democrats in the state and in Congress are closely watching how the two men maneuver around a possible primary race against each other, but the betting money is that O’Rourke is more likely to follow through with a run.

My thoughts:

– Optimism tempered with reality is the way to go. Dems basically have nothing to lose – HD107 was the only Dem-won seat that was remotely close – and plenty of targets that at least appear to be closer after last year. To be sure, there was reason for optimism going into 2014 as well, and we know how that turned out. The difference is who’s in the White House.

– The “tempered by reality” part is the recognition that all the seats we are trying to win were drawn to elect Republicans, and to put it mildly there’s no track record of good Democratic turnout in off years. You have to believe, as I do, that the national political climate is a big factor in how these elections play out, and that 2018 will be different than 2014 and 2010. Different doesn’t have to mean better, but all things considered it’s the more likely possibility.

– Dan Patrick has got to be a better statewide target than Greg Abbott. Abbott has good favorability numbers, and he’s not out there leading the charge for SB6. Mike Collier is the kind of credible-to-business candidate Dems could present as a viable alternative to Patrick to the business lobby. There are many reasons why those guys may stick with the devil they know even as he works against their interests, but at least there’s a chance they could be persuaded. There’s no chance they would abandon Abbott. If I were advising Mike Collier, I’d tell him to put Lite Guv first on my list. Sure, it would be nice to have a candidate with legislative experience running for that spot, but 1) the main thing you need to know as the guy who presides over the Senate is parliamentary procedure, and 2) have you even seen the guy Dan Patrick backed for President? Don’t come at me with this “experience matters” stuff.

– As long as we’re being optimistic, let’s assume Ken Paxton gets convicted between now and next November, and he does not get primaried out. It shouldn’t be that hard to find a decent candidate willing to take that bet. Just make sure that he or she has the resources needed to win the Dem primary in the event a Grady Yarbrough/Lloyd Oliver type decides to get in. The one thing we absolutely cannot do is accidentally nominate a joke to oppose Paxton.

– Having good candidates with sufficient resources to wage active campaigns in the legislative races will have a positive effect on turnout just as having a strong slate at the top of the ticket. This is not an either-or, it’s a both-and.

– Along those lines, the next best way to check Dan Patrick’s power is to reduce the number of Republicans in the Senate. Dallas County Democrats need to find a strong candidate to run against Don Huffines. Dallas County needs to be strong in 2018.

– The story talks about Democratic performance in the urban centers, and that’s important, but the suburbs matter as well. Opportunities exist in Fort Bend, Brazoria, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, and there are also a lot of votes in these places. Part of the strategy needs to be geared towards turning the tide in the suburbs. If nothing else, winning a seat in one of these places really changes the narrative, and serves as a concrete marker of progress.

– At some point, Democrats need to figure out how to translate the message that they have won on in big urban centers to smaller but still sizeable urban centers where they have not done as well. I’m talking about Lubbock, Amarillo, Corpus Christi, places like that. Burgeoning urban centers in suburban and exurban places, like Sugar Land, Pearland, Katy, New Braunfels, Plano, etc etc etc need to be on that list as well. Some of these places already have a Democratic presence on their City Councils and school boards. All of them could use more attention from the kind of people who gathered in Austin to talk about 2018. Who do we have in these places to even present the Democratic message? If such people exist among the local elected officials, support them and help raise their profile. If they don’t, bring in the shining faces we hope to be offering for larger roles and have them deliver it, then find opportunities to grow some local success stories there. I mean, this is what the Republicans were doing in the 70s and 80s. It’s always been a good strategy.

Basically, this was a good start. It’s the right way to think about 2018. Now let’s keep it going.

Some Republican women unhappy about Sid Miller

Noted for the record.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

For many female Texans working in Republican politics, last month’s release of a video showing GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump boasting about groping women was bad enough. They have since watched in astonishment as male elected officials from their own state have engaged in coarse rhetoric of their own.

The simmer turned into a full rolling boil on Tuesday, when someone using state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s Twitter account used a four-letter word that is frequently described as “the worst word in the English language.”

“When I heard about the tweet, I was stunned,” said Jennifer Waisath Harris, an Austin-based public relations consultant with a long history with the GOP. “I have not been surprised with some of the words that came of the commissioner’s mouth … but it’s one of those words you just don’t utter.”

The consequences of what Miller’s camp describes as an accidental tweet, juxtaposed with both Trump’s tone and recent comments from two Texas congressmen, has the potential to run off an entire generation of the party’s female talent pool, according to several women with strong ties to the party in Texas. They’ve spent their careers fighting for hallmark conservative values including school choice, opposition to abortion, limited government and a strong national defense.

“I can’t believe he even employs anybody who would post such a thing if he didn’t do it himself,” wrote Elizabeth Ames Coleman, a former Texas Railroad Commission chairwoman who also served in the Texas House, in an email. “Is everybody just so desensitized by the barrage of gutter-level talk that they don’t recognize it anymore? How embarrassing to have any Texas elected official perpetuate this kind of discourse.”

See here for some background. The story goes on in that vein for awhile, and I’ll get back to it in a minute, but first let’s jump over to this Statesman story, which provides more context for Miller’s tweeting habits.

At 1:43 a.m. Tuesday, more than 12 hours before a tweet from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s Twitter account referred to Hillary Clinton using a sexually explicit, derogatory term for women, Miller, or whoever was tweeting on his behalf at that hour in the morning, tweeted a question — “Can we bring Milo back?!?”

Milo is Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart senior editor who Twitter in July banned for life for directing his vast army of 300,000 Twitter followers to bombard “Saturday Night Live’s” Leslie Jones with racist tweets for her starring role in the “Ghostbusters” movie remake.

Miller’s middle-of-the night Twitter query was directed at four other cult figures, like Yiannopoulos with large social media followings at the alt-right edge of the Donald Trump political orbit.

There is Ricky Vaughn, who commonly uses the vulgarism for Clinton, and it appears might have been the source for Miller’s offensive tweet, which was quickly taken down.

There is RooshV, a renowned “pick-up artist” who on Oct. 17 wrote that women should confine themselves to reproductive sex, child rearing and homemaking, and who has warned that if Clinton is elected, a heterosexual male will never again serve as president.

There is Mike Cernovich, the man The New Yorker in its Oct. 31 issue profiles as the “meme mastermind of the alt-right,” who, on his “Danger and Play” blog, developed a theory of white male identity that posits that “men were oppressed by feminism, and political correctness prevented the discussion of obvious truths, such as the criminal proclivities of certain ethnic groups.”

And there is Jack Posobiec, special projects director of Citizens4Trump, who maintains that the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump talking about his predatory behavior with women was part of an attempted coup against Trump by House Speaker Paul Ryan and his GOP allies.

TM Daily Post riffs off of this and provides a few links to help illustrate who this particular basket of deplorables are. The point here is that the tweet that brought on this latest firestorm wasn’t just some accident of the kind that could happen to anyone. It’s that Miller and whoever else runs his social media accounts regularly swims in this cesspool of racist misogynistic douchebags. They’re buddies who laugh at the same jokes and share the same worldview. Put politics aside for a second and imagine that you’ve found yourself at a happy hour with these characters. Would you order a beer and hang out with them, or would you get the hell out of there and be glad to be rid of them?

Back to the Trib story, the theme of professional Republican women who have suddenly realized that they have been at this particular happy hour from hell all along but only began to notice it when the men they have worked for and supported have failed to say or do anything to derail these jerks is one that has started to appear. It’s not just Miller and Trump, either – the story notes recent comments by US Reps. Blake Farenthold and Brian Babin, among others, as part of the problem as well. Part of me feels sympathy for these women because how can one not feel sympathy, and part of me wonders what took them so long to figure out what was plainly obvious to the rest of us. Mostly I wonder what if anything they will do about it now that they have had this realization. The Trib story mentions some write-in votes for Evan McMullin, a lessened likelihood among Republican women to run for office (already a problem for the GOP), and some vague talk about reforming the party from within or splintering off into something else. The real question comes at the end:

[Randan Steinhauser, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee,] suggested that with Miller, at least, women would have the final word.

“We are political consultants by trade,” she said. “We’re conservatives, and as a strong conservative woman, I open the door to a strong conservative woman challenging Sid Miller.”

I’ll believe that when I see it. I might even take it seriously if it happens. As I’ve said many times about other matters of political controversy, nothing changes until someone loses an election over it. The filing deadline for 2018 is in a little more than a year. Put your money where your mouth is, and then we can talk. The Press has more.

Sid and Donald, BFFs

Birds of a feather.

Sid Miller

At a rally Sunday in Las Vegas, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump paused his usual meditation on the latest polls to direct his crowd’s attention to a “great guy on television today.”

“His name was Sid Miller from Texas,” Trump said, drawing a round of cheers as he invoked the state’s agriculture commissioner, known for his cowboy hats and — like Trump — political incorrectness.

“Oh, they know Sid Miller,” Trump continued, sounding somewhat surprised. “We create yet another star.”

In the home stretch of a zany presidential race, Miller’s star has no doubt risen, at least among the many Trump supporters skeptical of the notion that their candidate is headed for defeat. In recent days, Miller has become Trump’s go-to guy when it comes to arguing the presidential race in Texas and elsewhere is not exactly what polls say it is, an on-message ally in Trump’s pursuit to convince Americans it ain’t over ’till it’s over.

“He said, ‘Trump is going to win by massive numbers, bigger than anyone’s ever seen,'” Trump said at the Las Vegas rally, paraphrasing Miller’s remarks earlier in the day on Fox News. “And he said, ‘So I don’t know what you people are talking about on television, where they’re saying the vote in Texas is going to be very close.’ He said, ‘I don’t know what you people are talking about. You must be talking about a different Texas than the one I’m from.'”

Miller, who sits on Trump’s Agricultural Advisory Committee, appears to be reveling in the moment, committing to more media appearances and flooding his social media accounts with pro-Trump messages. And he seems to have seriously caught the attention of the nominee, who has not only shouted him out at multiple rallies but also personally sent him an email thanking him for his help.

“Sid Miller has become Donald Trump’s biggest cheerleader and champion in the state of Texas,” said Todd Smith, a spokesman for the agriculture commissioner. “Sid thinks it’s vitally important for not only our nation, but for farmers and ranchers and agricultural producers, to really fight hard this week on behalf of our nominee, and he’s doing that.”

Have two politicians ever been more made for each other than Sid Miller and Donald Trump? It’s hard to imagine. My goal is to do what I can to make sure people remember this two years from now.

And hey, it looks like ol’ Sid will do his best to provide reminders as well.

A since-deleted tweet sent from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s account on Tuesday used an obscene term to describe Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.

After initially claiming he was hacked, Miller said the tweet came from a staffer who did not realize the full extent of what he or she was sharing. The agriculture commissioner, a vocal Trump supporter, said he had been working all day and had instructed campaign staff to use his Twitter account to broadcast pro-Trump messages.

“I said, ‘Why don’t y’all just do some retweets?'” Miller told The Texas Tribune. “They didn’t notice it had a derogatory term in it and they tweeted it out.”

The episode instantly plunged the outspoken Miller into controversy. He earned a stern rebuke from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who said, “No true Texas gentleman would ever talk this way.”

So, misogyny, inattention to detail, and blaming others for one’s own actions. It’s like they were separated at birth. The Chron, BOR, the Current, TM Daily Post, and Juanita have more.

“Grab her by the p—-“

Donald Trump, ladies and gentlemen:

Donald Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women during a 2005 conversation caught on a hot microphone, saying that “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” according to a video obtained by The Washington Post.

The video captures Trump talking with Billy Bush, then of “Access Hollywood,” on a bus with the show’s name written across the side. They were arriving on the set of “Days of Our Lives” to tape a segment about Trump’s cameo on the soap opera.

The tape includes audio of Bush and Trump talking inside the bus, as well as audio and video once they emerge from it to begin shooting the segment.

In that audio, Trump discusses a failed attempt to seduce a woman, whose full name is not given in the video.

“I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it,” Trump is heard saying. It was unclear when the events he was describing took place. The tape was recorded several months after he married his third wife, Melania.

“Whoa,” another voice said.

“I did try and f— her. She was married,” Trump says.

Trump continues: “And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, ‘I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.’”

“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married,” Trump says. “Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.”

At that point in the audio, Trump and Bush appear to notice Arianne Zucker, the actress who is waiting to escort them into the soap-opera set.

“Your girl’s hot as s—, in the purple,” says Bush, who’s now a co-host of NBC’s “Today” show.

“Whoa!” Trump says. “Whoa!”

“I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her,” Trump says. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

“And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

“Whatever you want,” says another voice, apparently Bush’s.

“Grab them by the p—y,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

I don’t have any snark to bring for this. It’s hardly a surprise, given all we know about Donald Trump, though it’s still shocking in a way that I didn’t think I could still be shocked. The coordinated national Republican response has been rolled out, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot of it over the next thirty-something days.

And sure enough, Dan Patrick was quick to “condemn” Trump for what he said. Of course, there’s literally nothing Trump could say or do that would persuade Dan Patrick that Donald Trump is manifestly unqualified and incapable of being President, so take it for what it’s worth. That leaves Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Greg Abbott, Ken Paxton, George P. Bush, Sid Miller, and every other Texas Republican that has endorsed and worked to help elect Donald Trump to let us know what they have to say for themselves. Because as with Patrick, what they have to say about it will say a lot about themselves as well.

UPDATE: What Josh Marshall says.

Miller avoids charges for his questionable trips

Can’t catch ’em all.

Sid Miller

Travis County prosecutors will not press criminal charges against Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller for tapping taxpayer funds for two trips that involved personal activities — including an appearance in a Mississippi rodeo and the receipt of a medical injection in Oklahoma called the “Jesus Shot.”

“We have decided to close our file and not pursue criminal charges against Commissioner Miller on these allegations,” Assistant District Attorney Susan Oswalt wrote in a memo to the Texas Department of Public Safety dated Sept. 8 first reported by The Houston Chronicle. “Our office has determined that criminal intent would be difficult to prove in this case.”

Travis County was reviewing an investigation that the Texas Rangers launched after the liberal advocacy group Progress Texas filed complaints about the Stephenville Republican’s February 2015 trips.

Those complaints followed media reports indicating that Miller personally benefitted from the state-funded trips.

A statement posted Tuesday to Miller’s Facebook account said the commissioner was “pleased this process is now complete and that he has been cleared of any wrongdoing.” The statement also thanked the Travis County District Attorney’s office and the Texas Rangers for their “professionalism.”

[…]

In her memo, Oswalt wrote “it is clear that Commissioner Miller used campaign and state funds to pay for the two trips,” but noted that he had fully repaid the state.

“Additionally, the total amount spent on the trips was relatively small, the state has been refunded all the money it expended on these trips, and the facts have been made known publicly so that Commissioner Miller is likely to be more careful in the future,” the memo said.

See here for the background. Let’s be clear, this isn’t a vindication of any kind, and Miller clearly wasn’t innocent. ADA Oswalt basically says as much in the memo – he did it, we all know it, but the amount involved was small, he paid it back, proving “intent” will be nigh impossible, so it just isn’t worth our time and limited resources to pursue. Miller will claim vindication anyway, and because the story ends here and we all have short memories, he’ll mostly get it. But we know what happened. The Chron and the Current have more.

Rangers hand off Miller case to Travis County DA

Here we go.

Sid Miller

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office has begun reviewing the findings of a criminal investigation into Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s travel, a top prosecutor said Friday.

“We received the investigation (from the Texas Department of Public Safety) earlier this week,” said the prosecutor, Gregg Cox, the head of Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit. “It is under review.”

The review can take awhile, meaning that it may be another few weeks, or more, before Miller learns whether he will face charges for allegedly using taxpayer money for personal travel, including a trip to Oklahoma on which he may have received a pain-curing injection known as “The Jesus Shot.”

Still, the news means that there has been progress in the probe into Miller, which began in April following a series of Houston Chronicle stories about his travel.

So to recap, there were two complaints filed against Miller, one for the Jesus Shot trip and one for the Mississippi Rodeo trip. The key to each complaint is the allegation that Miller used taxpayer funds for personal travel, which is a no-no. Miller has told ridiculous lies and made clumsy attempts to cover his tracks, to the point where his spokesperson bailed the hell out because it was just too embarrassing. Now, none of this means that an actual crime was committed, and if we’ve learned one thing from the scandals of recent years it’s that often the laws cited in the charges for these crimes are ill-fitted to the facts, making the indictments broad targets for skilled defense attorneys. We’re likely a few weeks away from a decision on whether or not to file charges, and if charges are filed we’re anywhere from months to years away from a resolution. So settle in and get comfortable, this could take awhile.

Sid Miller joins Team Trump

Awesome.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said Friday he is working with GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign to help lead an agriculture team.

In an interview with KFYO’s Chad Hasty, Miller described the effort, likely to be announced next week, as a “coalition” of others in the agriculture industry and said he will serve as a national co-chair, focused on Texas.

“Of course my emphasis will be carrying Texas for the ag industry for Trump,” Miller told Hasty. “Personally I think Donald Trump will be great for agriculture.”

The national media has taken notice, as how could they not? The manure jokes, they write themselves. While Dan Patrick and Rick Perry have so far been the loudest acolytes for Trump, I’m hard pressed to think of any prominent Texas Republican who better embodies all that is Trump than Sid Miller.

Legislative hearing on emergency leave

Figure this will be on the legislative agenda next spring.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

At a Texas House hearing Tuesday looking into how some state agencies were able to keep some departing employees on the public payroll by granting them emergency leave, lawmakers expressed frustration that vague state rules may have allowed the practice.

“I want to know exactly … if there [were] any violations of the law or violations of the process, and I think that’s incumbent upon everybody on this committee to figure out if that transpired,” said Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio. “If the law wasn’t broken, then I want to know exactly how we can correct it.”

Lawmakers on the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics were looking into whether heads of agencies have too much discretion when it comes to awarding emergency leave.

“There’s going to be absolute certain change to this statute, but let’s work together to get it right,” said Committee Chairman Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, during the hearing.

Texas does not award severance pay to state employees, but recent news reports showed that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton paid both his first assistant attorney general and communications director for months after they left the agency by categorizing both as being on emergency leave. Other reports revealed a similar practice in the General Land Office where departing employees continued to receive compensation, though not through emergency leave.

Emergency leave is often used as a way of permitting state employees to take a leave of absence for a death in the family, but the law also allows agency heads to grant it for other unspecified situations.

In June, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, asked the Legislature to examine the issue. He had previously called for limiting the practice in order to ensure “that agencies use taxpayer dollars appropriately.”

See here and here for the background. There’s a request for an investigation by the Rangers into the severances, but I don’t know where that stands. As a philosophical matter, I don’t particularly object to severance packages for state employees. There ought to be some limit on them, but I don’t think they need to be banned completely. The use of emergency leave as a form of severance package, done as a way of keeping people quiet as they’re being shown the door, is another matter, one that deserves a close look from the Lege. I don’t know what action they’ll take, but it will be something. The Chron has more.

Abbott orders state agencies to obey the law

Better late than never.

Droppin’ dimes, droppin’ dimes

Gov. Greg Abbott and Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Wednesday ordered state agencies to stop paying departing employees by placing them on “emergency leave.”

“Pursuant to this directive, the use of emergency leave, administrative leave or other mechanisms to continue paying state employees who have ceased to work will be prohibited,” the directive from Abbott and Hegar stated. The directive will remain in place until the Legislature takes up the issue during next year’s legislative session, Abbott’s office said.

The Dallas Morning News and other media outlets have recently reported on the growing practice by agencies to keep departing employees on the payroll by placing them on “emergency leave,” often as a form of severance.

The practice first came to light after reports that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton paid his first assistant attorney and communications director for months after they left the agency. Subsequent stories revealed the General Land Office continued to pay departing employees without using the emergency leave designation.

Representatives of both agencies said they will follow the governor’s new order.

“We appreciate Governor Abbott’s leadership,” said Marc Rylander, spokesman for the attorney general’s office. “We do not disagree with the Governor’s new policy for all agencies subject to the direction of the governor, and we will concur with it moving forward.”

Brittany Eck, GLO spokeswoman, said the agency will suspend the use of separation agreements until lawmakers decide how to proceed.

“We look forward to continuing our work with the Governor, Comptroller, and members of the Texas Legislature to not only clarify the law on this issue but also discuss how state agencies should manage its workforce in an efficient and cost-effective manner,” Eck said.

See here and here for the background. The Lone Star Project requested an investigation into this a couple of days ago. I guess it had finally gotten to the point where Abbott could no longer ignore the issue. Trail Blazers and the Chron have more.

Lone Star Project requests investigation of severance packages

From the inbox:

BagOfMoney

Today, Lone Star Project Director Matt Angle sent letters to the Texas Rangers, the State Auditor and the Travis County District Attorney requesting formal investigations into a series of questionable payments made by Attorney General Ken Paxton, State Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, State Land Commissioner George P. Bush and other state officials.

Improper Payments Detailed in Investigative News Reports

Widespread abuse of state employee compensation has been detailed in a series of investigative news reports by the Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News and other Texas publications over recent weeks.  The reports point to the systematic use of “emergency leave” as well as document manipulation to allow some state employees to quit or be removed from their state jobs but continue receiving thousands of dollars in state pay.   In some cases, the payments appear intended to provide special treatment to politically connected or otherwise favored employees.  In other instances, the payments may be a form of hush money to keep specific employees from criticizing state officials or disclosing information that might prove incriminating or embarrassing.

Angle’s letter to the Texas Rangers can be seen here and reads in part:

“These reports confirm that, contrary to the intent of law, multiple statewide officeholders have provided certain employees with emergency leave packages as a form of severance pay or even settlement agreements.”

“The intentional misuse of state funds violates both the spirit and the letter of the emergency leave provision of state law and could be viewed by Texas taxpayers as the equivalent of tax-payer funded hush money.”

“Specifically, the facts outlined by state news media and Texas state law merit a full investigation of the Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner, Land Commissioner, Teacher Retirement System, Water Development Board and potentially other agencies for violations of Texas Penal Code 39.02 (Abuse of Official Capacity), Section 36.02 (Bribery), and Section 37.10 (Tampering with a Government Record).”

See here and here for the background. I had assumed someone would file a complaint over this sooner or later. The Rangers and the State Auditor can add it to their growing to-do list. The Chron has more.

You get a severance! And you get a severance!

Everybody gets a severance package!

BagOfMoney

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has spent nearly $1 million in taxpayer money to entice dozens of people fired by his administration to agree not to sue him or the agency, a practice that may run afoul of a ban on severance pay for state workers.

Bush, a first-term Republican, has directed the General Land Office to keep at least 40 people on the payroll for as long as five months after ending their employment, according to an analysis of records obtained by the Houston Chronicle. The ex-staffers did not have to use vacation time, and, in fact, continued to accrue more time for as long as they were on the payroll. In return, they agreed in writing not to sue the agency or discuss the deal.

Many of the recipients were top aides to former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson who were fired during an agency “reboot” in which Bush replaced more than 100 employees.

Such separation arrangements are made frequently in the corporate world, but are not allowed in Texas government, where there is no severance and staffers generally are required to work to be paid, according to employment lawyers, union leaders and former state officials.

“I can understand the thinking of an agency head who wants to get rid of someone and thinks that this is an easy way to do it, but this is not the way to do it,” said Buck Wood, an ethics expert and former deputy state comptroller, noting the detailed rules that govern how agencies can spend money do not authorize that purpose. “Keeping someone on the payroll when they’re not coming to work so you can avoid the hassle of a lawsuit is just illegal.”

Malinda Gaul, a San Antonio employment lawyer who has represented state workers for 33 years, said she had never heard of such an arrangement.

[…]

Steve Aragon, a former general counsel for the Health and Human Services Commission, said he thinks there are justifiable reasons to pay employees for not working, including to prevent litigation in cases in which it was clear that a staffer likely would not come back. However, he said, it is not something that state agencies should do frequently.

“These situations should be exceptional and would not be expected as a matter of routine,” Aragon said.

Others objected to any use of the practice, including Seth Hutchinson, a spokesman for the Texas State Employees Union.

“It’s not an appropriate use of state funds,” Hutchinson said. “If people are being wrongfully fired, they’re being wrongfully fired, and they shouldn’t be using state funds to cover it up.”

After being told that it is not uncommon in the corporate world, Hutchinson scoffed.

“State government should be held to a higher standard of accountability,” he said.

This is getting to be quite the pattern, isn’t it? It’s almost like Baby Bush and Ken Paxton and Sid Miller have no regard for the law but only care about their own interests. I presume someone will file a complaint about this, thus providing Greg Abbott another opportunity to profess ignorance about what’s happening in his government. Keep it up, fellas.

What, me worry?

Ken Paxton? Sid Miller? Meh, no big deal.

Not Greg Abbott

Gov. Greg Abbott is steering clear of the legal problems swirling around two of his fellow Republican statewide officials, saying he does not know the facts of their cases and expressing little concern about their ability to serve.

Speaking Wednesday afternoon with reporters, Abbott kept his distance from both the securities fraud charges facing Attorney General Ken Paxton and questions about whether Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller misused public funds. Paxton was indicted by a Collin County grand jury last year and federal securities authorities last month, and Miller is under investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Asked to characterize his level of concern with the legal problems — and whether he was concerned — Abbott said he did not know enough to answer.

“Because I don’t know the facts concerning any of the allegations against either of them, I have no basis to have concern,” Abbott said. “I think that’s up to the appropriate authorities to be involved with.”

Pressed on whether he still has confidence in Miller and Paxton, Abbott said his office works “virtually every day with the attorney general and his office, and that’s been a very effective working relationship.” He said through a spokesman last month that the allegations against Miller “warrant a thorough investigation.”

Asked earlier specifically about the Paxton saga, Abbott pointed to his past remarks on the case. His response was nonetheless his first public comment since Paxton, already facing state charges, was hit with a federal case from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“I’ve said before that the person is innocent until proven guilty,” Abbott told reporters, bringing up the indictments against former Gov. Rick Perry that were ultimately dismissed. “We obviously saw what played out with regard to Gov. Perry.”

Let’s be clear about one thing here: Of course Greg Abbott has been fully briefed on the facts of both the Paxton and Miller cases. He’s the freaking Governor and nominal head of the state GOP. It would take Trumpian levels of incuriosity to not have been fully briefed, not to mention political malpractice of the first degree. I mean, if either or both of these guys go down, it will have an effect on Abbott – and everyone else on the 2018 ticket, if it happens before then – so just from a risk management perspective, he needs to know what he’s facing. I’m sure that what he’s really saying here is “It would be a bad idea for me to offer any opinions about these still-being-litigated-or-investigated cases, so I’m just going to pretend I know nothing about them and hope y’all will quit asking me these questions”. Which, honestly, is the wisest thing he could do. But it doesn’t mean we need to be fooled by it. Trail Blazers and Brian Sweany have more.

By all means, go for Jared

Keeping it classy.

The race for chairman of the Texas Republican Party has spawned charges that the party’s current leader, Tom Mechler, supports a “disgusting homosexual agenda.”

A supporter of Jared Woodfill, a Houston lawyer and former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, has sent out campaign mailers blasting Mechler for allowing a gay and lesbian GOP group to have a booth at the upcoming state convention and not doing enough to move the event out of Dallas, which they call a “homosexual-friendly location.”

Mechler said he had nothing to do with the decision to allow the group, the Metroplex Republicans, to have a booth at the state GOP convention.

“I understand that hatred has spewed into the chairman’s race,” Mechler said.

Quelle surprise. You can’t spell “zealous hatred of the gays” without the letters H-O-T-Z-E, and indeed this mail was sent by Houston’s gay-hatingest quack. Nothing surprising there, though you may find yourself wondering how in the heck Jared Woodfill could be in a position to fail upward like that. Well, Woodfill as State GOP Chair is indeed a thing that could happen.

Houston’s Jared Woodfill is trying to win control of the Republican Party of Texas, challenging the current management and saying it has been too quiet in the face of legislative defeats in a state government dominated by Republican officeholders and appointees.

The contest between Tom Mechler of Amarillo, the party’s current chairman, and Woodfill, who once led the Harris County GOP, is a fight about purity, about which kinds of conservatives the Texas GOP represents and about what the party is supposed to be doing. They don’t run as combined tickets, but former state party Chairman Cathie Adams is running for vice chair in tandem with Woodfill, while current vice chair Amy Clark is seeking reelection, along with Mechler.

The outcome of the elections, to be held at the GOP’s state convention in Dallas next month, probably isn’t going to change your life, but it’s interesting. Mechler wants the party to bring in more voters — he’s talking about minorities and millennials, among others — who have generally eluded the charms of the GOP. He doesn’t think it’s his job to tell the state’s Republican officeholders what to do.

“Every Republican should be comfortable within the party,” he says. “My vision is and will be that is that this party is welcoming and embracing all conservatives from all over the state of Texas.”

Woodfill is a bully-pulpit guy, a political figure whose effectiveness depends on everything from actual microphones on actual podiums to social media, news media and advertising.

He is appealing for the support of others who, like him, think the state political party should be whipping the Legislature to keep it in line with the GOP platform and the beliefs of Texans in its voting base.

His pitch against the current party leadership seems aimed more at the House than at anyone else. An example from the Facebook page promoting his candidacy: “Friends, we are engaged in a cultural war and our Republican Party of Texas leadership is running from the fight! One need only look at the 2015 legislative sessions to find evidence of the RPT surrendering our values.”

Woodfill focuses on a list of issues that met their demise, he contends, in the Texas House, including bills outlawing references to Sharia law in courts, requiring Texas cities to enforce federal immigration laws, allowing the use or diversion of tax dollars for private school tuition, repealing in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrantsnon-citizens who graduate from Texas high schools, and enacting new ethics legislation.

That plays into existing divisions among the Republicans in government, however they are characterized: establishment against insurgents, social conservatives against social moderates, chamber of commerce against grassroots.

The characterization that matters here is that Jared Woodfill is an idiot, and would almost certainly be a terrible state party chair. He’s certainly not going to be about building a party for the future, or one that intends to grow. All of which, needless to say, is fine by me. I’ve said that scandal, in the form of criminality from the likes of Ken Paxton and Sid Miller, may help boost Democratic prospects in Texas in the short term. Incompetent leadership, especially when combined with an unwelcoming attitude towards anyone who isn’t already fully on board with a full slate of ideological shibboleths, would also help. And Lord knows, we Democrats can use all the help we can get. So please do your part, RPT. Please put Jared Woodfill in charge of your party. Thanks.

Being Sid Miller

It’s complicated, especially when your stories keep changing.

Sid Miller

The Texas Rangers are currently investigating whether Miller broke the law when he took those out-of-state, taxpayer-funded trips in February 2015.

The first was to Oklahoma, where internal emails from the Department of Agriculture indicated he planned the trip solely to obtain the Jesus Shot, which some believe cures all pain for life. Miller, who claimed the trip’s intent was to meet with Oklahoma lawmakers, said he would repay the state for the trip out of an “abundance of caution” after it was revealed in March by the Houston Chronicle that he missed a meeting with the state agriculture commissioner, Jim Reese.

“There was an official purpose for him to be in Oklahoma, and that was to meet with the commissioner of the state of Oklahoma,” insisted Todd Smith, Miller’s political consultant of 17 years, on Thursday. Smith attributed the missed meeting to a “comedy of errors.” He could not answer why those issues were not discussed at a conference both Reese and Miller attended just days before the so-called Jesus Shot trip.

Miller also traveled to Mississippi on the state’s dime, where he participated in the National Dixie Rodeo. When asked about the trip, the Department of Agriculture provided more than one version of how it came to pass, and late Thursday, Smith offered a much different account than his boss.

Initially, the Houston Chronicle reported that Miller took the state-paid trip to Mississippi to participate in the National Dixie Rodeo but sometime after that tried to set up a work meeting with the Magnolia State’s agriculture officials, making it a legitimate state-covered business trip. Miller said after those meetings fell through, he repaid the state for the trip with campaign funds because he also met with donors and advisers.

More than a week before the Chronicle story, Miller’s then-communications director Lucy Nashed told The Texas Tribune that the Mississippi trip — which was always designed to be a personal trip — was mistakenly booked by a staffer as a business trip. Once the staffer realized the trip was personal, Nashed said, Miller repaid the state for the trip out of campaign funds and $16.79 from his nursery’s business account. Earlier this month, Nashed resigned, saying there was a “tremendous lack of communication” at the department.

Miller has told the Tribune there was “absolutely no validity” to the complaints from liberal advocacy group Progress Texas that led to the Rangers investigation, calling them “harassment.”

“There’s nothing absolutely illegal or wrong with either of those trips,” he said.

But on Thursday, Miller’s political consultant told the Tribune a new version of the Mississippi trip. He said it was always supposed to be a business trip to meet with Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith and that those meetings did occur, contrary to what his boss has previously said.

“I think there was some discrepancy about whether or not he had a meeting with her on that trip,” Smith said. “He met with her multiple times. He went to the rodeo with her.”

Tribune attempts to confirm whether Mississippi officials met with Miller have been unsuccessful.

As for Miller’s rodeo-ing while on a state-paid trip, Smith said there was nothing wrong with it and compared it to buying souvenirs while on a business trip.

“He can’t flip a switch and say, ‘I’m no longer the agriculture commissioner here, and I’m the agricultural commissioner now,’” Smith said.

Well, when most of us buy souvenirs on business trips, we pay for them with our own money. We don’t put them on the company card and then claim that we intended he purchase to be for business purposes when the accounting department asks us to explain the expenditure. And I for one can’t wait to hear what Commissioner Hyde-Smith has to say.

Actually, as it turns out, we don’t have to wait.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has met with his Mississippi counterpart multiple times since being elected, but there are no records indicating any meeting during Miller’s trip to the Magnolia State to compete in a rodeo in February 2015.

Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith traveled to Austin to meet with Miller in December 2014, and the two also spoke during conferences in February and June of 2015, according to emails and budget records released by the State of Mississippi. No documents exist about a meeting during Miller’s trip, however.

Texas officials also said they have no records of any meeting during the trip.

The absence of records appear to undercut statements made by Miller and his political consultant, Todd Smith.

I’m sure you can imagine my reaction to this, but just in case you can’t:

It’s like one big Meghan Trainor video up in here. What really boggle my mind is that there was no real reason to make up another explanation. Miller’s previous excuse, however risible, was at least consistent. Why would you go to the trouble of offering a new, easily fact-checked reason and thus keep this part of the story in the news? Like Dogbert once said, sometimes no sarcastic remark seems adequate.

Now you may be asking yourself, what happens if Miller finally does resign? Who would be best suited to step in for him? Well, don’t you worry, never fear, Jim Hogan stands ready to be called to service.

A criminal investigation into Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has just begun, and while it is far too early to speculate about its result, one candidate is putting his name forward for any opening necessitated by a resignation: Jim Hogan, the Cleburne farmer who opted not to campaign when the Democratic Party nominated him to run against Miller in 2014.

Hogan said in an interview that he has been closely following the news about Miller and believes it could end in him being appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to fill the position.

“Well, of course,” Hogan said. “If you had a tournament and the first guy was disqualified, wouldn’t you pick the guy that got second? Why would you pick someone who got out in the quarterfinals?”

[…]

For Hogan, the spending is troubling, but he said he also was disturbed by another aspect that had not gotten very much attention — the fact that both trips took place during work days.

“I’m just different,” Hogan said. “If I wanted to go to a rodeo, I guess I’d find one on a Saturday.”

Well, you can’t argue with that. I just wonder, did Jim Hogan call reporter Brian Rosenthal to tell him what he thought about this situation, or did Rosenthal call him out of a sincere desire to know what Jim Hogan was thinking about this? In ether case, I’m sure someone will advise Greg Abbott of Hogan’s readiness. Paradise in Hell has more.