Updated at 3:58 p.m. on 11/29/2021 to include a new candidate for the position who filed Monday, 11/29/2021.
Just two weeks out from the candidate filing deadline for the 2022 election cycle, it appears Texas Republicans will find themselves choosing between two known conservatives and a largely unknown candidate in a matchup for the position of Texas agriculture commissioner.
The position is primarily charged with managing the Texas Agriculture Commission, which is set up to promote agricultural production, protect consumers, spur economic development, and encourage healthy living practices.
The incumbent Republican Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller was first elected to the position in 2014 after having previously served as a lawmaker in the Texas House of Representatives from 2003 to 2013.
His tenure at the commission has not come without tumult, however.
In the 87th regular legislative session earlier this year, Miller publicly admonished House Republican leadership for “holding up” legislation aimed at protecting children from disfiguring operations, which later failed to get through the entirety of the legislative process due to self-imposed deadlines.
In March of this year, he sued Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas Senate over mandatory COVID testing requirements, whereby citizens had to submit to a COVID test before they could enter the Senate gallery, participate in public hearings, or enter any other area in the Capitol building maintained by the Senate. The suit argued that such restrictions violated the Texas Constitution, which requires that legislative sessions be “open and accessible to the public.” Miller argued that the policy was “inconsistent,” after Gov. Greg Abbott had waived the statewide mask mandate and declared Texas “100 percent open” earlier in the month.
Miller was also critical of Abbott’s previous Public Utility Commission (PUC) appointees in the wake of the severe winter weather that paralyzed the state in February.
Before the regular legislative session began, Miller was part of a lawsuit against Abbott in relation to his executive order extending the early voting period in the November 2020 election.
In October of 2020, Miller penned an open letter to Abbott that admonished his shutdowns in relation to COVID-19, saying, “It’s time to STOP THE INSANITY!” Miller continued his letter by saying, “There is simply no logic to continuing to crush the liberties of free people of Texas for the sake of fear and politics.”
In 2016, Miller found himself embroiled in controversy surrounding the use of taxpayer-funded trips in 2015, which also involved personal activities such as attending a rodeo in Mississippi and receiving an injection dubbed as the “Jesus shot” that absolved the recipient of varying degrees of pain.
Upon first being elected as commissioner, Miller attempted to combat mandates from previous agriculture commissioners in relation to the food served to public school children. In 2004, then-Commissioner Susan Combs instituted a policy banning foods with high amounts of sugar and fats from public schools, including foods that parents may provide to children other than their own (such as birthday treats). That policy was repealed by Miller’s predecessor, Todd Staples, but Miller made it a point to ensure parents across the state were aware that policy no longer existed. State media dubbed the announcement as Miller granting “cupcake amnesty.”
In late June, Republican State Rep. James White (Hillister) announced he would challenge Miller, citing his own “experience on agriculture issues, and commitment to integrity and ethics” as the criterion for his candidacy.
White has served in the Texas House of Representatives for six legislative sessions, after first being elected in the fall of 2010. White is the current chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, which was instrumental in passing constitutional carry legislation earlier this year. He also served as chairman of the House Corrections Committee in both the 2019 and 2017 legislative sessions.
White is also the most recent addition to the Texas Freedom Caucus, having joined shortly after he announced his candidacy for agriculture commissioner and right before the beginning of the first called special legislative session in July.
Thus far, White has publicly announced the endorsements of fellow Freedom Caucus members and Republican State Reps. Mayes Middleton (Galveston), Matt Schaefer (Tyler), and Dustin Burrows (Lubbock). House Speaker Dade Phelan also tweeted support for White’s candidacy before it was officially announced.
White is one of 25 House and Senate lawmakers calling for a fourth special legislative session to address a prohibition on employer vaccine mandates in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carey Counsil, a rancher and U.S. Air Force veteran, also filed his candidacy for the position on Monday. Counsil is largely an unknown candidate, but he announced for the position in May. Counsil told KWHI 1280 AM, “I see a huge disparity between the consumer and the producer, and we’ve got to correct that disparity. There is a huge disparity—what you are seeing at the grocery stores and … what the farmers actually get. Another disparity that I see is that we are seeing the inclusion of water rights. The government is wanting to take the water above the ground, and they are also interested in the subterranean water rights of different states, and some of the states are succumbing to the water rights. I just don’t see that the water rights are anyone’s business other than the landowner, so that is something I want to get out there and protect.”
Counsil continued in the interview by saying, “My whole resume that I have built with no direction has actually focused me toward being the agriculture commissioner of Texas. I am a proponent for the agriculture industry. I don’t have a whole lot of political experience, but I think the common person is tired of the typical politician.”
What is Next?
Republicans have controlled all statewide elected offices for almost two decades. The candidate filing period officially ends on Monday, December 13. It is still possible additional Republican candidates may join the race, though it looks unlikely.
The primary election date is currently scheduled for March 1, 2022.