By Morgan Smith, The Texas Tribune, texastribune.org
Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller on Wednesday called complaints filed against him over questions surrounding two taxpayer-funded out-of-state trips “harassment.”
The complaints were “filed by a very liberal left-wing organization, Progress Texas. They are just harassing me,” the Stephenville Republican said in a phone interview. “There’s nothing absolutely illegal or wrong with either of those trips … There is absolutely no validity to the complaint.”
Progress Texas has asked the Texas Rangers to investigate two state-paid trips Miller took in February 2015. The liberal advocacy group has also filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission alleging Miller misused campaign funds for personal purposes.
“This isn’t Sid Miller’s first rodeo,” Lucy Stein, the organization’s advocacy director, said in a statement. “Miller has yet again demonstrated a pattern of abusing his office by misusing taxpayer and campaign funds. Not only did Miller try to stick taxpayers with the bill for another personal trip and fumbled around to cover it up again, but this time he also used campaign cash to make a quick buck for himself.”
One of the trips Miller took was to Oklahoma, where he received a controversial injection known as “the Jesus Shot” that is supposed to cure all pain for life.
When asked by the Houston Chronicle about the trip, Miller said he made it so he could tour the Oklahoma National Stockyards and meet with Oklahoma officials. But when those officials were contacted by the Chronicle, they said they had no plans to meet him in their state that day. Internal emails from the Agriculture Department later indicated that Miller had planned the trip around receiving the shot. After details about the trip became public, Miller said he would repay the state for the trip out of an “abundance of caution.”
Miller also traveled to Mississippi in February on the state’s dime. While there, Miller, who is a calf roper, participated in the National Dixie Rodeo. When asked about the trip, the Agriculture Department gave contradictory reports to media outlets.
The Houston Chronicle reported that Miller took the state-paid trip to Mississippi to participate in the National Dixie Rodeo but later repaid the state with campaign and personal funds. He told the Chronicle that the intent of the trip was to meet with agriculture officials there, making it a legitimate state-covered business trip. Miller said after those meetings fell through, he repaid the state for the trip with campaign funds because he also met with donors and advisers during that time.
More than a week before the Chronicle story, Miller’s then–communications director Lucy Nashed told The Texas Tribune that the Mississippi trip — which was always designed to be a personal trip — was mistakenly booked by a staffer as a business trip. Once the staffer realized the trip was personal, Nashed said, Miller repaid the state for the trip.
Earlier this week, Nashed resigned, saying there was a “tremendous lack of communication” at the department.
Asked Wednesday about Nashed’s resignation, Miller said he had no comment.
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