Sid Miller, Shotgazi and the End of the Texas GOP

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller
Jen Reel
Sid Miller on the night he won the race for agriculture commissioner in November 2014.

Texas has had its fair share of scandals, and though many have been bigger and meaner than Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s Shotghazi, I can’t think of one I’ve enjoyed more.

If you’re unfamiliar with Miller, it’s worth getting acquainted. His campaign treasurer in 2014 was Ted Nugent. Before Miller took the top ag job in Texas, he raised Christmas trees and got in trouble for abusing his horses. He tells bawdy jokes and wears a big hat. Asked last year at a policy conference what keeps him up at night, he first answered “bad Mexican food” before giving his serious answer: “Will we be a Muslim country?” During his election, Miller’s campaign spread word that his runoff opponent had sex with prostitutes in the Capitol parking garage. He’s like a French cartoonist’s caricature of a Texan.

Things did not improve after he was elected. He spent $55,000 renovating his office with Western swag. He gave friends and allies jobs at the agency, then doled out $410,000 in bonuses in his first nine months in office, something it took his predecessor 30 months to do. He mounted a high-profile campaign to “return” deep fryers and cupcakes to schools. He seems to spend most of his time posting wacked-out and bigoted memes to his Facebook pages — a joke about cow sex, or an exhortation to commit genocide against Muslims. He repeatedly got in trouble for parking his car where he wasn’t supposed to on the Capitol grounds.

But if these episodes have been undergraduate courses in buffoonery, here is Miller’s master’s thesis, as related by the Houston Chronicle. Miller, a rodeo cowboy, has pain problems. Word reached Miller of a “doctor” up in Oklahoma, a man found guilty of eight felony charges by an Ohio court, including health care fraud. Known as Dr. Mike, the felon offered something he called a “Jesus shot,” which would take away all pain for life. He offered this considerable advancement in medical technology for $300.

Just after he took office in 2015, Miller booked a flight to Oklahoma and a rental car, for the purposes of traveling to the Priceless Beauty Spa in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, where Dr. Mike plies his trade. Miller charged Texas taxpayers $1,100. On the way up, he hastily scheduled a meeting with some Oklahoma lawmakers so he could claim the trip was for state business. “It was a pretty lengthy meeting,” Miller told the Chronicle, at which many important agricultural-type issues were discussed.

“It was 15 minutes, at most,” said one of the Oklahomans.

When reporters came knocking, Miller’s office repeatedly withheld emails about the trip. He’s now under investigation by the Texas Rangers. And while we’re not talking about all that much money for a bizarre but essentially victimless plot, Miller’s Red River quest illustrates a particular truth about Texas’ elected class of 2014: These are very mediocre people.

Miller and his 2014 classmates — particularly Attorney General Ken Paxton, who recently hired his former pastor as his office’s communications director, arguably violating the spirit, if not the letter, of state law in the process — are artifacts of a party whose gene pool is bottoming out. They know they’ll probably never face a competitive general election. And a lot of their fellow conservatives know it, too. Behind closed doors, a lot of Republicans are horrified that they share a party with Miller and Paxton. And they worry deeply about what’s next.

In the 1980s and ’90s, there was a similar kind of anomie that crept into Texas Democrats. A lot of people who probably shouldn’t have held high offices took them anyway. Some got mired in scandal. Some were incompetent and filled with hollow ambition. And some were too left-wing for the state. Slowly, the party lost the credibility it needed to lead, and Republicans built themselves up as the party of competence and stability.

Just maybe, that’s happening now in reverse. It’s a strange feeling to miss Rick Perry and David Dewhurst. But it often seems like the unworthiness of our current elected officials has created softness in the opposition, too. Each new gaffe and miniature scandal brings a round of condemnation from the Democratic Party and left-leaning groups. Press releases materialize, and then vanish into the ether. Eventually things will get bad enough that Texans will have to vote for us, the thinking goes. Maybe! But imagine the headlines we’ll have to endure between now and then.

Christopher Hooks is a freelance journalist in Austin, where he grew up. His work has appeared in Politico Magazine, Slate, and Texas Monthly, among others. He graduated from The New School in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in history.

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Published at 8:44 am CST