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2018 Primaries: Ag Commissioner Race 'Will Define Texas Republican Voters,' Says Expert

Sid Miller Campaign | Trey Blocker campaign

Incumbent Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has been locked into a heated — and sometimes nasty — primary battle with Austin lobbyist Trey Blocker. The two Republicans Tuesday night sat down to publicly hash out their differences at a debate in East Texas.

The outspoken incumbent and his opponent have a history. When the two Republicans sat down for a debate organized by Grassroots America, moderator JoAnn Fleming asked Miller about increasing fees on agriculture equipment immediately after being elected in 2014.

Texas lawmakers and state auditors criticized the decision, which resulted in a $7-million dollar surplus for the state agency. Miller defended the move.

“I can assure you — maybe not all of them, but most of them — we are going to either rebate those fees back to the farmers and the businesses or we’ll lower the fees across the board,” Miller said.

Brandon Rottinghaus, political science professor with the University of Houston, said it’s probably one of the more colorful but also politically interesting statewide primary elections because of what the results will tell us about Republican voters.

“It will tell us whether or not Republican primary voters are more worried about policy or politics. I think a case can be made that Republican voters will reject Miller for acting in a non-conservative way by raising fees, even if they applaud his tone and tactics,” Rottinghaus said.

But Rottinghaus said Blocker has his own vulnerabilities.

Miller asked Blocker about some of his past political campaign contributions to Texas Democrats, accusing Blocker of being a “Republican in name only.”

“My opponent has made this accusation several times and tried to call me a Democrat because of it,” Blocker said. “You know our president, Donald Trump, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats over the years, and I’ve never heard my opponent call Donald Trump a Democrat.”

Rottinghaus also said typical Republican primary voters are hardline conservatives who won't tolerate any Republicans supporting Democratic candidates or their causes.  

Early voting for the primary begins Feb. 20. The primary election is March 6.

Ryan Poppe can be reached at rpoppe@tpr.org or on Twitter @RyanPoppe1

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.