Abbott knows better than anyone that this is usually not the way it works; as governor, he got involved in the Republican primaries up to the State House level in an attempt to bring down lawmakers who rejected him. And so it is telling that an official like Paxton will not pledge to support Abbott even against a hypothetical challenger. Indeed, the growing uproar of the virus, the election and the storm have led some Texas Republicans to decide that the 2022 governor’s primary represents a critical moment in the fight for the future of the party. Primary speculation has been so widespread that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, with whom Abbott has suffered intermittent friction, recently felt compelled to withdraw from the race. At a recent dinner for young Texas Republicans, according to a reporter from the Texas Tribune, the lieutenant governor stressed his “hope” that no one would give Abbott first place, “because he has done a hell of a job, and we have to re-elect him again.”
Sid Miller, however – Sid Miller would respectfully disagree.
On the morning of March 11, Sidney Carroll Miller, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, rode a horse named Big Smokin Hawk at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Big Smokin Hawk, known outside the ring as the Mini Pearl, is a sorrel mare on the left hindquarter with the letters S, I and D marked. It was day 9 of the rodeo, which normally features an array of attractions and performances – in 2019 Cardi B, dressed in a pink and blue sequined cowgirl outfit, drew a record for more than 75,000 people – but this year it has been drastically reduced. As always, Miller had towed his horses four and a half hours from his farm in Erath County to compete.
Miller is a 65-year-old rancher and Republican who served 12 years at Texas House before successfully running in 2014 for the post of Agricultural Commissioner, his campaign co-chaired by a Ted Nugent. Some highlights of his tenure since then include charges of using public funds to go to a rodeo in Mississippi (he was fined $ 500 by the Texas Ethics Commission for this); the revocation of the ban on deep fryers and soda machines in public schools; posting an image on his Facebook page that endorsed the destruction of the ‘Muslim world’ (his spokesperson at the time blamed an anonymous staff member for the post, but clarified that he would not apologize for it and had in fact found his post “thought-provoking”); and shares, as part of a 2018 Facebook post condemning UKTN for canceling the sitcom “Roseanne,” a doctored photo of Whoopi Goldberg wearing a shirt showing Donald Trump shooting himself in the head. (Spokesperson: “We post hundreds of things a week. We post things out there. We’re like Fox News. We report, we let people decide.”)
Donald Trump, in this case, was very fond of Sid Miller. He appeared to first notice this when, while Miller was on a Trump campaign advisory board in 2016, his account posted a tweet calling out Hillary Clinton what was flagged as the “C word,” then Quickly deleted it and replaced it with a claim that the account had been hacked. (Via a spokesperson, Miller later said his staff “inadvertently retweeted a tweet” but ultimately apologized.) Shortly after, at a rally in Tampa, while talking about the force from his campaign in Texas, Trump checked Miller’s name and his “big, beautiful white cowboy hat.” Miller later interviewed to be Trump’s first agricultural secretary, though the job ultimately went to Sonny Perdue. So when activist types recently started to float Miller as a challenger to Abbott, the idea didn’t seem entirely ridiculous.
“You know,” he said, not five minutes after our interview, “if I were governor. … ”We were sitting in a room next to the arena with Miller’s wife of 40 years, Debra, Miller still wearing his spurs and cowboy hat. “I think the governor is in trouble,” Miller continued. He had attended the protest outside the governor’s mansion in October. In his view, the recent decision to lift all restrictions related to the pandemic was irrelevant. “I mean, I didn’t see anything lifted. I have to wear my goddamn mask here, you know, in Houston, everywhere else I go. (When I asked if a private company should be able to require a mask if they wanted to, Debra looked at her husband and nodded. “They can, they can, yes,” Miller said.)
I noted that although a vocal subset of Republicans had grown disenchanted with Abbott, he and Trump seemed to get along well (“my best guy, best governor,” as Trump once called him). But Miller hesitated. “Abbott was not his biggest fan,” he said. “I would say they tolerated each other. They weren’t – they weren’t enemies. ”
Miller said he has yet to make a final decision regarding the running. He would have say, however, that he received a lot of encouragement from others to do so. “I had five people who arrested me here, and it’s not even a political event. I just pulled myself aside and said, we really appreciate what you’re doing, and we hope you run for governor and hang in there. And so there is something being built there. People are not happy – “He turned to Debra, who had just pushed him gently. “You go to several events. … ”She offered in a low voice. “Oh, yeah,” he said turning to me. “When I go to events, it’s overwhelming the response we get to Republican events.”