AUSTIN (Nexstar) — When Texans head to the polls Monday, they’ll need decide who they want to serve as Agriculture Commissioner. Attorney and Democrat Susan Hays is attempting to unseat Republican incumbent Sid Miller, who is seeking re-election this November.
The winner will oversee a large budget at the Texas Department of Agriculture, which helps give financial assistance to farmers and ranchers, uses grants to attract development in rural Texas, and oversees the products that wind up in your grocery stores.
Miller served in the Texas House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013. He was elected Agriculture Commissioner in 2014, and won re-election in 2018. Miller is touting his accomplishments from his previous terms, promising voters there’s more work he needs to get done in the office.
Hays, who grew up in a neighboring town to Miller’s hometown, attended UT Austin and later Georgetown University, where she obtained her law degree. She is an equal rights lawyer who has recently focused her law practice on the cannabis industry.
Both have deep roots in Texas. Hays’ family started ranching just after the civil war, and Miller’s since the 1700s.
While the two candidates have significant policy differences, one area where their ideas overlap is marijuana. Both support the use of medical cannabis.
“I’m pushing for full medical cannabis,” Miller said. “I think it’s time. I’m pushing the legislature to lead those medical decisions up to the physicians.” Unlike his opponent, Miller does not support the recreational use of marijuana.
“We need to grow up and deal,” Hays said. She supports legalizing cannabis. “I hope to lead the way with that with my expertise in cannabis policy of what’s the right way to do it in a way that’s healthy and protects us.” Hays’ campaign website outlines a detailed critique of Texas policy and a roadmap to improve.
Having grown up in rural Texas, Hays says one of her top priorities is rural healthcare access.
“The Ag department houses the State Office of Rural Health,” Hays said. “My husband and I’ve been living in rural Texas for the last couple of years…where three counties share one hospital, rural healthcare is really struggling…We’ve had dozens of hospitals closed the last several years, and that office is rotting in the basement. There’s just a lot of potential to help rural Texas by beefing up the health care aspects.”
If re-elected, Commissioner Miller says he wants to focus on the state’s export program and consumer protection and nutrition.
“I took a nutrition program where we were feeding zero local products in our school lunch rooms. And now our kids are being fed $65 million worth of locally grown fresh organic products in our cafeterias,” Miller said.
With Texas facing a year of drought, agriculture and water are pressing issues for the Ag office to address.
According to Hays’ campaign website, she plans to “promote both economically and environmentally sustainable agriculture” and “will seek to bring the available federal funding to facilitate these practices to Texas and lead the way to the future of Texas Ag.”
“I will find mechanisms to protect water in place today and into the future…insist that state water agencies, groundwater districts, and groundwater management areas have the funding and tools to do their job,” Hays said.
Miller acknowledges Texas’ water vulnerability. “To solve the Texas water problem, we must dream big again,” Miller’s campaign site said. “While being your Texas Agriculture Commissioner gives me an important vantage point on this challenge, the Department of Agriculture lacks the authority to initiate such a program. It will require a broad public commitment and leadership from all branches of government, as well as the private sector.”
If elected, Hays also wants to address rural economic development.
“We don’t just need projects that create low-paying jobs, but projects that create access to capital so that rural Texans can start businesses that lift up the whole community.” Hays’ campaign site said.
Her economic development plan is intertwined with health care, “it’s time to build the agency back up.” she said. Her plans include talking with members of the Finance Committee and the appropriations committee to get a good solid budget and increase the State Office of Rural Health and its program to support rural hospitals.