In 2001, the American-Statesman profiled a new legislator on the Capitol block, one 45-year-old Sid Miller of Stephenville. Miller was described as “an unabashed conservative,” and like a lot of freshman lawmakers, he had come to Austin with high hopes of serving his constituents and making a difference. The profile concluded with Miller saying he would “rather be a statesman than a politician,” because “a statesman does what’s right no matter what the cost. A politician does whatever it takes to get elected. I hope when I’m done they say I was a statesman.”
Over the next decade, Miller would become familiar with getting re-elected — until he lost re-election in 2012. But he wasn’t ready to call it a political career so he ran — successfully — for agriculture commissioner two years later. Miller’s a professional rodeo calf roper, but during his first 15 months as ag commissioner, he has acted more like a rodeo clown.
And now he’s the subject of a Texas Ranger investigation into whether he misused taxpayer and campaign money to travel in February 2015 to Oklahoma to receive an anti-inflammatory “Jesus shot” and to Mississippi to compete in the National Dixie Rodeo. Progress Texas filed the complaint on March 21, amended on Wednesday, that prompted the Texas Ranger investigation. Miller says he did nothing wrong and the source of the complaint against him allows Miller to blame his situation on a “a very liberal, left-wing organization.” But Miller could be in real trouble.
If the Texas Ranger investigation results in charges against him, Miller would join Attorney General Ken Paxton as the second elected leader of a state agency under criminal indictment. Paxton is facing two state counts of securities fraud. This week, the Securities and Exchange Commission added to Paxton’s legal troubles, accusing him of investor fraud. Paxton says he has no plans to resign.
Miller took office in January 2015 and immediately announced himself as an embarrassment. He took aim, in the name of freedom, at a nonexistent statewide ban on cupcakes in classrooms. (Frosting may be liberty but surely liberty is more than frosting.) He later called for the return of deep fryers to the state’s schools. If these actions offered hints of Miller’s own personal diet, then a Jesus shot to rid him of some rodeo aches may be the least of his health worries.
Miller also created four assistant commissioner positions, each paying $180,000 a year, and hired other staffers for jobs that were not publicly posted as open. And Miller paid $413,700 in bonuses to 144 employees at a time he was increasing fees on state-regulated occupations.
Then, of course, there’s Facebook Miller, sharer of jokes, tidbits from history, and Abbott and Costello clips — but also sharer of Internet memes that call for the nuking of Muslims, compare Syrian refugees to rattlesnakes and portray President Barack Obama as a supporter of Che Guevara.
More than 15 years into his state political career, Miller has proved he’s hardly a statesman. He’s state government’s equivalent of that old high school classmate we all have on Facebook who keeps posting hoaxes that he could easily discover are false if he only weren’t more interested in sharing and confirming his political biases. And any poor fool who tries to tell him he’s posting fake or inaccurate information will be told that a) all he was trying to do was stimulate conversation or b) you’re too stupid to understand satire.
Whether Miller understands the difference between fake news and satire, or at least good satire, or that a statesman is someone who elevates our discourse beyond a viral meme is unknown. But he can’t ignore that this week things got a whole lot more serious for Sid Miller.