Sid Miller talks re-election campaign, previous term, immigration

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller sat down for a conversation with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith on Friday to discuss Miller’s re-election campaign, immigration and more.

Miller, who is in the middle of a tense Republican primary race with longtime lobbyist Trey Blocker, said he’s not ready to leave his statewide elected office because there’s still work to be done. Watch the full video above. Or read below what he had to say about his time as agriculture commissioner and his re-election campaign:

No regrets about his previous term 

Miller said he has drastically improved the Texas Department of Agriculture by fixing the agency's finances, increasing its inspections of gas stations and other businesses and getting more strict on businesses operating illegally. He joked that his only regret from his time as agriculture commissioner was eating at a particular Mexican restaurant in South Texas. “I will never make that mistake again,” he said. “We all got sick.”

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Immigration and border wall

 Miller’s primary opponent Blocker has criticized Miller as being too liberal on immigration and the proposed border wall. But Miller said that’s not the case. Here’s where he stands on some of the hot-button topics:

  • The border wall: Miller said Mexico needs to have a voice in the border wall conversation. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with extending a hand of friendship to your neighbor,” Miller said. But a token of friendship shouldn’t be mistaken for asking permission, he said. “We will build the wall,” Miller said. To do so, he said the federal government should build the wall immediately and with its own money. The United States can be reimbursed later, he said.

  • Property rights and the border wall: A member of the audience asked Miller about how the state will help protect property rights, since her family’s farm would be essentially cut in half with a border wall. In response Miller asked, “Can you farm right now with the cartel traffic and violence?” He added that a wall should attempt to respect property rights by going around the perimeter of properties.  

  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals: Miller said the U.S. cannot just give citizenship to undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children. “You can’t reward illegal behavior, even though in most cases it isn’t their fault,” Miller said. But he said there should be some sort of program in place for those immigrants to work toward citizenship.

Ethics questions

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Back in June, the Texas Ethics Commission slapped a $2,750 fine on Miller for sloppily reporting his 2014 campaign finances. Miller said the violations are no cause for worry and that they were due to minor clerical errors.

In addition, he said the “Jesus Shot” controversy – a reference to the time when he used taxpayer dollars for a trip to Oklahoma that included a visit to a doctor who offers a shot purported to eliminate pain – is not an ethics concern either. He said he refunded the state for the “Jesus Shot.” The trip happened in his first 30 days of office when he was learning the guidelines, he said. “There’s nothing to it,” Miller said.

The “social media Trump” of Texas

Miller is known for his use of Facebook. He posts multiple times daily, almost 150 times a week. He said he was using social media even before President Trump was known for it. Like the president, his posts have at times been a subject of controversy. In a 2015 Facebook post, he compared refugees to rattlesnakes. Later that year, he created a post that appeared to call for using an atomic bomb on the “Muslim World.”

Although some have called his online presence inappropriate at times, Miller said that’s debatable. “That’s my personality, that’s who I am,” he said.

Disclosure: Trey Blocker has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.