Ag Commissioner Candidate Sid Miller on Water, Worker Misclassification and Guest Workers

Sid MillerSid Miller is a solid, conservative, pro-life and pro-Second Amendment Republican. During his time serving the people of Texas as a state representative, Miller was the House author of the Texas Sonogram Bill. He served as chairman of the Agriculture and Livestock Committee and the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. Now he seeks to serve Texas once again as the next Agriculture Commissioner. Miller sat down with TexasGOPVote to discuss three important issues related not only to agriculture but to urban communities as well - water, worker misclassification and a viable guest worker program.

For a variety of reasons, many industries like construction and agriculture face a critical labor shortage. I asked Rep. Miller about his thoughts about increasing the labor market through the implementation of a viable guest worker program.

"We need to address this; it's past time," Miller began. "First thing we need to do is secure the border. You can go back as far as Reagan and what he did, it didn't work because, one reason, we didn't secure the borders, so we have to secure the border. Then, we can set up a guest worker program. We don't even need to use taxpayer dollars to fund it. We would simply charge a fee for someone who wants to come to Texas and work. This is not an illegal citizen, it's a guest worker program, sign them up, they have a certain window of time to stay here and work, most of the work they come up here for is seasonal. They're migrant workers, they go to crop to crop to crop, at least in the agriculture sector."


"We use that money to fund the program," Miller continued. "Taxpayers aren't saddled with that. They get up here and they pay their taxes, they pay withholding, they pay income tax, they pay social security and all of that so they're not a burden on the system, so it's not done under the system. They'd be glad to do that because now they're paying a coyote $2-3,000 to get them across the border, and they're having to carry a backpack full of dope. There's been 50,000 murders on the Texas-Mexican border. That needs to stop. We can do that with a guest worker program that would seal the border, document them, they pay the cost, and that way they're on a level playing field as every other worker here in the state too."

We also discussed worker misclassification, the unethical and illegal business practice of classifying workers as independent contractors instead of employees to avoid taxes and workman's compensation insurance issues. Miller agreed that companies should play on a level playing field and should follow the law.

Texas Water ResourcesWater, of course, is an extremely important issue relating to both urban and rural communities. With the growth of Texas' population comes increasing demands for water. Also Texas' rapidly growing energy industry also increases demands on water resources.

Miller explained how he would address water related issues as Ag Commissioner stating, "I will make water the top priority for the Texas Department of Agriculture. We need to have a balance between the industrial use, municipal use, and agriculture use. We have a fifty-year water plan. We have eleven reservoirs planned on that. We're not going to get there tomorrow, so we need to do some things immediately."

"Since I'm a conservative," he continued, "I think we should conserve our water, do conservation efforts, we can do that in the agriculture sector simply by upgrading more efficient equipment that has less wind drift, evaporation, runoff, more efficient pumps and pipe, less friction, some of our cities are in worse cases when it comes to water loss. A report came out that some of our larger cities in Texas, from the time they get their water until the time they deliver it to the customer, they lose 30% of it, so we've got to look at that infrastructure. We can do that quick, really cheap, so that should be our first measure."

"We're also going to have to do some other things beside build reservoirs and do conservation efforts. We need to look at desalination plants in El Paso and that area out there is already using some. We have a lot of water that's unusable in Texas. It's called brackish water, especially in West Texas, but we can take the salt and minerals out of it and use that water. We can also use that water for fracking in oil field services, instead of fresh water, so we have to do some smarter things that don't cost a lot of money. So that will be my number one focus in the Texas Department of Agriculture, would be the water issue in our state," Miller concluded.

I asked Rep. Miller about what role the Texas Agriculture Commissioner should play in overseeing the expenditure of Texas financial resources when it comes to water. "The last Constitutional election," Miller responded, "voters approved taking $2 billion out of the Rainy Day Fund, earmarked for water projects, the prior Constitutional election, the voters approved $6 billion in bonds, so it's a total of $8 billion. We had three commissioners that are overseeing that."

"So as Agriculture Commissioner, I think we should have a form of checks and balances, those guys are all good guys, but there's no guarantee five years, ten year, fifteen years from now, that those three guys will be our guys, so we need a system with check and balances. The Agriculture Commissioner should watch those funds, make sure they're used properly, and that we're not wasting taxpayer dollars."

Sid Miller Rodeo

In the interview, Miller also discussed his background in agriculture and in the Texas Legislature where he served as chairman of two important committees - the Agriculture and Livestock Committee and the Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety.

Miller pointed out that his family has been working in agriculture in Texas for four generations and that he as actively worked in the industry his entire life.

There are five candidates in the race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner. Agriculture is the second largest industry in Texas, and with the increasing demands on water resources, this is indeed a very important election for all Texans, urban and rural. TexasGOPVote will continue to follow this race and bring more information to the voters.

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW:

Bob Price, TexasGOPVote Political Commentator: We're here today with former state representative Sid Miller, now running for Texas Agriculture Commission. Sid, welcome to TexasGOPVote 

Former State Representative Sid Miller: Thank you Bob. Good to be with you today. 

Bob Price: Welcome to the crowded race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner. 

Sid Miller: It is crowded. 

Bob Price: It's a big responsibility coming in to take Todd Staples place. He's done a great job with the office, and I'd like to hear a little bit about your thoughts, your qualifications on this race. 

Sid Miller: This is a very important race,. Five people are in it. I think I am obviously the most qualified from the agriculture end of it. I think I'm the most qualified from the conservative end of it because we're running in the Republican Primary. Eight generations of my family have been farmers and ranchers here in the United States, four generations here in Texas. We immigrated from Ireland, started farming in South Carolina, then Mississippi, and in the late 1800's, moved to Texas. So my family has always made their living off the land. I make my living off the land. I currently grow crops, cattle, horses, and nursery stock, trees, in Stephenville, Texas, so I've been doing that all my life. I graduated from Tarleton State University, an agriculture culture, there in Stephenville, Texas with a degree in vocational agriculture. I was an ag teacher for five years, FAA advisor, 4-H Leader, continuing my agriculture operation with cattle, hogs, sheep, and goats at that time, farmed peanuts. I used to tell people I was a peanut farmer, I'm a recovering peanut farmer. I've been peanut free for about ten years since I've had a crop of peanuts, but I served on the Farm Bureau Board there as Director, was President of the Dublin Peanut Farmers Cooperative, served on the local school board, served in the Legislature for 12 years. I was vice chair of the Agriculture and Livestock Committee and Chairman of the Agriculture and Livestock Committee has direct oversight of the Texas Department of Agriculture. I'm the only candidate in the race that has that in-depth knowledge of inner workings of the department. Later on, I chaired the Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety, which has a jurisdiction over the Texas Rangers, security over the Texas border, we worked closely with Colonel McCraw over there. We made great headway on the Texas border. We stopped illegal drugs from coming into Texas, it went down 60%, and illegal immigration down 40%. So that was one of the prouder moments of my political career, along with passing the Sonogram Bill, which saved 8,000 babies last year. 

Bob Price: My goodness, congratulations on that. That was an incredible bill for us. One of the big issues that's facing, not only agriculture, but the urban areas as well, with 1.000 people a day moving into the state of Texas, thanks to our great economy here, is water. Tell us about that from the agriculture perspective and what we can do here in Texas.  

Sid Miller: One of my objectives as Agriculture Commissioner, I will make water the top priority for the Texas Department of Agriculture. We need to have a balance between the industrial use, municipal use, and agriculture use. We have a fifty-year water plan. We have eleven reservoirs planned on that. We're not going to get there tomorrow, so we need to do some things immediately. Since I'm a conservative, I think we should conserve our water, do conservation efforts, we can do that in the agriculture sector simply by upgrading more efficient equipment that has less wind drift, evaporation, runoff, more efficient pumps and pipe, less friction, some of our cities are in worse cases when it comes to water loss. A report came out that some of our larger cities in Texas, from the time they get their water until the time they deliver it to the customer, they lose 30% of it, so we've got to look at that infrastructure. We can do that quick, really cheap, so that should be our first measure. We're also going to have to do some other things beside build reservoirs and do conservation efforts. We need to look at desalination plants in El Paso and that area out there is already using some. We have a lot of water that's unusable in Texas. It's called brackish water, especially in West Texas, but we can take the salt and minerals out of it and use that water. We can also use that water for fracking in oil field services, instead of fresh water, so we have to do some smarter things that don't cost a lot of money. So that will be my number one focus in the Texas Department of Agriculture, would be the water issue in our state. 

Bob Price: Now speaking of water and money, Texas just passed a Constitutional Amendment allowing money from the Rainy Day Fund, $6-8 billion now that's going to be spent on water infrastructure as we move forward. What rules should the Texas Agriculture Commissioner and Commission play in that. Do you ever monitor that money. 

Sid Miller: The last Constitutional election, voters approved taking $2 billion out of the Rainy Day Fund, earmarked for water projects, the prior Constitutional election, the voters approved $6 billion in bonds, so it's a total of $8 billion. We had three commissioners that are overseeing that. So as Agriculture Commissioner, I think we should have a form of checks and balances, those guys are all good guys, but there's no guarantee five years, ten year, fifteen years from now, that those three guys will be our guys, so we need a system with check and balances. The Agriculture Commissioner should watch those funds, make sure they're used properly, and that we're not wasting taxpayer dollars.  

Bob Price: One of the other issues that faces the Agriculture industry in particular, when you look at farming and the cattle, a lot of different industries where they need manual labor, there's a real shortage of labor. One issue that has been put forward as a solution to this is a guest worker program. Tell us what your thoughts are on that and how that needs to move forward here in Texas. 

Sid Miller: We just need to have the courage. We need to address this; it's past time.  First thing we need to do is secure the border. You can go back as far as Reagan and what he did, it didn't work because, one reason, we didn't secure the borders, so we have to secure the border. Then, we can set up a guest worker program. We don't even need to use taxpayer dollars to fund it. We would simply charge a fee for someone who wants to come to Texas and work. This is not an illegal citizen, it's a guest worker program, sign them up, they have a certain window of time to stay here and work, most of the work they come up here for is seasonal. They're migrant workers, they go to crop to crop to crop, at least in the agriculture sector. We use that money to fund the program. Taxpayers aren't saddled with that. They get up here and they pay their taxes, they pay withholding, they pay income tax, they pay social security and all of that so they're not a burden on the system, so it's not down under the system. They'd be glad to do that because now they're paying a coyote $2-3,000 to get them across the border, and they're having to carry a backpack full of dope. There's been 50,000 murders on the Texas-Mexican border. That needs to stop. We can do that with a guest worker program that would seal the border, document them, they pay the cost, and that way they're on a level playing field as every other worker here in the state too. 

Bob Price: Currently, there are businesses out there that cheat the system. They'll hire illegal workers or they will misclassify workers as independent contractors when they're really employees, and when they do that, they gain an unfair business competitive advantage and the taxpayers get cheated also because they're not getting the unemployment taxes, workman's compensation coverage, which means if one of those guys gets hurt, they get dumped at the county hospital and the taxpayers pick that up. 

Sid Miller:  I work very closely with Colonel McCraw with the Texas Rangers. I've been up and down that border. I've seen the problems. I've seen those ranches that are devastated down there. A lot of those people couldn't sell a ranch if they wanted to because of all the cartel activity down there. There are illegal actions that go on. I'm willing to take that on, have that working relationship with the border sheriffs down there, I've already built that coalition, so I think it's high time the state of Texas addresses it. 

Bob Price: Good, what other issues are important to agriculture? 

Sid Miller: Well if you just separate agriculture away from the urban areas, one of the things in rural Texas that's become a real problem that's causing $500 million in damage each year is feral hogs, wild hogs. Not only do they tear up crops and destroy property but they're a vector for all types of disease like foot and mouth disease, cholera, rabies, pseudorabies, all of those. It's even starting to creep into out urban, suburban areas. They're tearing up city parks, gold courses, turning over headstones. They City of Irving, close to where the Cowboys work out, trapped 300 head there on the Trinity River, so it's something we need to address. In the Legislature, I did pass a bill that is helping, it's not going to be an end-all. I took a liability that a farmer rancher had, they would have to hire a helicopter service to come in with a gunner and take out these wild hogs, depreciation. They had to pay for that service, very costly. So the bill I had allowed them to sell that seat on the helicopter to a hunter, someone that wanted to go up and shoot hogs, and it's worked really well. We've taken a liability for the farm and ranch and turned it into an asset. We had 130 people sign up for operators, so we have 130 new businesses in Texas with 5-10 employees each, so we're creating jobs. It's creating an income for the farm and rancher being able to sell those hunts out of a helicopter, so it's been a win-win. We're getting rid of the hogs. We took a liability and turned it into an asset, we have job creation, so far it's worked really well.  

Bob Price: Who says we're not entrepreneurial here.  

Sid Miller: That's right. Actually, for that reason, Ted Nugent agreed to be my campaign treasurer and state co-chairman with Debbie Riddle in Houston, so he was a big supporter of that bill.  

Bob Price: Well that should make things rock-n-roll. He's a wild guy but a solid conservative.  

Sid Miller: Yes, he's a great champion of the Second Amendment. As he says, we're American blood brothers when it comes to championing the Second Amendment. We've got good endorsements too. Most all of the conservative groups that have endorsed him, endorsed our campaign. Texas Right to Life, Young Conservatives of Texas, Empower Texans, Conservative Republicans of Texas, and the list goes on and on. We've had really good luck, the grassroots are behind us. Our campaign is going good, we're the frontrunners, I can tell because they've been taking some shots at me. They don't do that unless they're scared, so I feel good.  

Bob Price: Well you know it's been a nice run up to this point getting to the campaign, but now we're in a 1,000 yard sprint basically getting to the March Primary. Ballot by mail applications are going out by mail in less than 2 weeks and early voting starts in mid February, so it's coming quickly.  

Sid Miller: It is. We're burning lots of miles up and down the road, starting in Austin, Texas this morning, then Cypress area for lunch, and we're going to another venue back west this evening. It is a sprint from here on out. 

Bob Price: Well Sid, thank you for being willing to serve the people of Texas, again. We'd like to talk to you as the race goes on a little further to delve into some other issues as it needs to come up.  

Sid Miller: Thank you. I appreciate what you do. God bless. 

Bob Price: Thank you.

 

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