In recent weeks, Texas Agriculture Sid Miller has become increasingly vocal in his attacks against members of the Texas House, vowing to engage in “the greatest RINO hunt in Texas Republican primary history.”
Miller’s new tone is a stark departure from comments he made as a member of the Texas House, defending then-Speaker Joe Straus from political attacks made by many of those he has now allied himself with.
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Before the 2011 legislative session, Speaker Joe Straus had just completed his first term as Speaker of the Texas House, presiding over a chamber with a slim 76-74 Republican majority during the 2009 session. The 2010 election saw massive gains for Republicans, which, coupled with the defections of some conservative Democratic legislators to the Republican Party, resulted in Republicans having a 101-49 majority during the 2011 session.
Some on the right were dissatisfied with Straus’ performance as Speaker, alleging he was insufficiently conservative. Leading the brigade against Straus was Michael Quinn Sullivan, who served as President of Empower Texans at that time.
Leading up to the opening day of the 2011 session, then-State Representative Ken Paxton waged a challenge to Straus. In a blog post written on January 10, 2011, Sullivan touted Paxton’s challenge to Straus, even though Straus had earned the support of 70 out of 100 Republican members present at a Republican caucus meeting before the start of the legislative session. Even though Paxton ultimately withdrew on the floor, leaving Straus unopposed, Sullivan’s organization used the record vote for the unopposed Straus on his organization’s legislative scorecard.
In the wake of the attacks against Straus by Sullivan and his allies, several Texas House members came to Straus’ defense. Then-State Representative Sid Miller was particularly outspoken in his defense of Straus and his colleagues in the Texas House.
In a widely distributed letter to Donna Garner, a conservative activist who opposed Straus, Miller defended Straus and made sharp criticisms of Paxton.
Miller’s Letter Attacking Paxton and Defending Straus
Miller began his letter, dated January 4, 2011, by remarking that “legislative scorecards are not an accurate reflection of conservative success in the Texas House.” Miller, who was a supporter of Tom Craddick, who preceded Straus as Speaker, then noted that Paxton had withdrawn his support of Craddick to instead support then- State Representative Brian McCall’s challenge to Craddick before the 2009 session. McCall, like Paxton, represented Collin County in the Texas House at that time.
“It seems that Ken Paxton was willing to sacrifice Craddick’s conservative leadership of the Texas House and endanger his reelection as Speaker so that he could support a more moderate legislator from his home county,” wrote Miller.
After noting that many of Craddick’s hand-picked Republican committee chairs backed Straus for reelection as Speaker, Miller stated, “Ken Paxton promises that he will be more conservative than Joe Straus, but the record is clear. At a time when we needed him to stand up for conservative values, Ken Paxton was willing to put geography ahead of conservative values. I am simply not willing to reward that kind of betrayal.”
Miller also seemingly gave his approval to the longstanding tradition of members of the minority party holding committee chairmanships in the Texas House, observing that “Just as Tom Craddick had during his tenure as Speaker, Joe Straus appointed members of the other party as Committee Chairman in relative proportion to their numbers in the Texas House, including three conservative Democrats who would later switch parties and become Republicans adding to our majority.”
Republican unity also seemed essential to Miller then, noting that infighting among conservatives benefitted liberals. “At a time of historic gains for conservatives, it would seem to me that you would want to focus your attention on conservatives working together to pass the issues important to you and me instead of attacking conservatives- attacks which do nothing but empower the liberals. Instead, they make the Democrat minority much more consequential than their numbers would suggest,” wrote Miller.
Miller closed his letter to Garner by lamenting the level of vitriol that the attacks by those touting Paxton had taken, even invoking Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment” of “Thou shall not speak ill of another Republican.”
“I know that we are well past the time when we could expect that President Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment” would be honored and that we would not “attack a fellow Republican,” Even so, I had hoped that we could have avoided the unfair and distorted attacks that have been made in recent days against those very conservatives who have stood in the trenches with you over the years- attacks that have included a level of vitriol and venom that would cause Ronald Reagan to spin in his grave,” wrote Miller in closing.
After Straus’ reelection as Speaker in 2011, Straus appointed Miller as Chairman of the Homeland Security and Public Safety committee. In the 2012 Republican Primary, Miller was challenged for reelection by Dr. J.D. Sheffield. During that campaign, Miller received significant financial support from the Straus-aligned Texas House Leadership Fund.
After losing his Texas House seat to Sheffield in the 2012 Republican Primary, Miller then worked as a lobbyist. Miller made a political comeback in 2014, successfully running for Texas Agriculture Commissioner. Miller parted ways with his longtime pollical consultant, Todd M. Smith, last year after Smith was indicted on felony theft and commercial bribery charges stemming from allegations involving Smith’s role in a scheme involving hemp licenses issued by the Texas Department of Agriculture. The criminal charges against Smith remain pending.