Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller wants four more years in office. The Stephenville Republican, rarely spotted sans his Stetson, is facing both Republican and Democratic challengers in his bid for re-election.
His top Republican primary opponent, Trey Blocker, is a former Austin lobbyist who's questioned Miller's ethics and decisions as head of the agency that oversees the state's multibillion-dollar agriculture industry. Early on in his first term, Miller 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.
Miller said he had to raise fees to make up for a budget shortfall he inherited and that doing so worked. A report by the State Auditor's Office, actually showed the fees generated $27.3 million during the 2016 calendar year, while programs that rely on such fees cost just $20.8 million to operate — which means Miller's agency collected $6.5 million more than necessary.
Miller has since said he plans to reduce fees and that the commission will begin issuing rebates to producers as soon as this summer.
The Republican primary between Miller and Blocker is financially competitive, with both men having around $400,000 to spend. And according to the latest Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll, it could be a close race on Election Day. About 60 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they were undecided on the race, but when pressed to make a decision, majority gave their support to Miller.
Jim Hogan, a third Republican candidate running for Texas Agriculture Commissioner, declined to be interviewed for this project.
In the latest edition of our "Split Decision" video series, watch Miller and Blocker virtually debate their "country credentials," agriculture, ethical and immigration issues, and how "Nutella banana crepes" became a campaign issue.
Disclosure: Trey Blocker and The University of Texas have been financial supporters 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.