With his cowboy hat and boots in a suit, few Texas politicians cut the figure Sid Miller does. Part of his job is being de facto ambassador, promoting Texas-made food and the like.
But when an investigation by the Houston Chronicle alleged Miller's trips to Oklahoma and Mississippi – paid for by state and campaign money – weren't all business, the Texas Rangers stepped in to investigate.
The Chronicle alleged Miller's trips to Oklahoma and Mississippi earlier this year involved getting a pain injection known as the "Jesus shot" and participating in a rodeo contest. He says he reimbursed state and campaign coffers.
Last week, prosecutors announced they would not be filing formal charges over his use of funds – hard to prove he misused taxpayer money, they said. When we sat down with the Ag Commissioner that the Texas Tribune Festival, he told the Standard the reports on his trips were politically motivated.
On his trip to Oklahoma and the so-called Jesus shot:
“The trip wasn’t about that at all. I actually had a meeting with the agriculture secretary in Oklahoma and went up there. I had been in office for less than 30 days and they don’t give you an Ag Commissioner academy to go through or a training course. They hand you the keys and say, Hey you got a $6 billion business – good luck! I’d went up there to meet with the secretary of agriculture to glean his mind… I did the same thing in Mississippi and Louisiana. I went and visited with those commissioners. They’ve kind of been mentors of mine and helped me understand just exactly what the department is up against. That’s what the trips were really about.”
On not facing charges after spending state money on two out-of-state trips:
“I wasn’t surprised. I knew the facts, I knew there wouldn’t be anything.... I was confident that we hadn’t committed anything wrong. It was just, basically, no smoke, no fire. It was just politically motivated.”
On paying back the money he spent on the trips:
"I paid that back out of an abundance of criticism... The trip to Mississippi I paid back as soon as I got back, because my meeting fell through."
On hindsight about taking those trips:
"I wish I hadn't come under the scrutiny. My predecessor had 23 [public information requests] his last year in office. My first year I had 1600. So I feel pretty good actually – out of that many inquiries, that that’s all they could come up with. Even though Travis County said there’s nothing there, we’re not going to pursue the grand jury."
On how scrutiny affects his job and agency:
"It makes it hard on the department. I doesn't affect me any because I don't look up the PIRs. We usually have one lawyer to do that. We ended up having to have five people do it full-time. It was a cost to the taxpayers that shouldn't have been there. That's pretty much stopped. I guess they've looked at every email and every invoice and every contact we've ever had. We’ve been highly, highly scrutinized and we feel pretty good about what we are. We think we’re doing things right.”
On what's he's done since those trips:
"In the last 20 months, I've completely torn down the agriculture department and restructured it, modernized it... We've increased our Farm Fresh program, farm-to-school program. I got a lot of flak over giving amnesty to cupcakes and throwing back all the mandates. But it's been a huge success."
Post by Hannah McBride.