The Texas Agriculture Commissioner is a powerful, Statewide elected position that traces its roots back over 100 years ago. During the era of Democratic dominance, the office was occupied by larger-than-life men who became national figures. There was James McDonald, a bitterly conservative Democrat who fought with Franklin Roosevelt over crop subsidies. He served for twenty years until a 25 year old man named John White defeated him and held the office himself for twenty-six years. White, a liberal, would later go on to serve as President Carter’s deputy Secretary of Agriculture as well as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Then, of course, there was Jim Hightower, a folk hero of the left who held the office for close to a decade.
Since Republicans first took over the office, however, it has been career politicians most prevalent in this post. Rick Perry, then a State Representative, unseated Hightower in 1990. He was succeeded in 1998 by Susan Combs, the incumbent Comptroller, who was –in turn– succeeded by Todd Staples in 2006, the incumbent.
In the race to succeed Staples, it is the career politicians who finished best. Sid Miller and Tommy Merritt, two fiercely conservative former State Representatives, finished first and second, respectively. They will therefore advance into a runoff election in May. Two other conservative activists, Joe Cotten and Eric Opiela, also finished strong, while J Allen Carnes, the Mayor of Uvalde and a self-described pragmatist, finished dead last.
Purple counties are those won by Miller, green by Merritt, yellow by Cotten, red by Opiela and light blue by Carnes. Blacked out, of course, denote those counties that forged a Republican primary election.
Miller, who received 35% of the vote, is a resident of Erath County (Stephenville). Accordingly, he dominated in the Edwards Plateau, as well as in most all of these cities and suburban areas. Merritt, who received 21% of the vote, is a resident of Gregg County (Longview). He therefore retained most of his support in the eastern portion of the State. Opiela, a residency of Karnes County, won many of the resulting areas (roughly along the coast between Houston & San Antonio). Carnes, the Mayor of Uvalde, won most of the surrounding geographical areas in the proximity of Uvalde County.
Last but not least, there is Joe Cotten. A resident of the Metroplex, Cotten did surprisingly well among Hispanics, especially in Valley. He also won the City of Corpus Christi and Nueces County by wide margins.
All in all, this primary looks to be Miller’s for the taking. His biggest claim to fame has been authoring the notorious sonogram bill in the 82nd Legislature, a big victory for anti-abortion rights activists. Admittedly, Miller typically received the support of the Farm Bureau while in the Legislature, but the bureau did not support him in this primary. They supported Carnes, who came in dead last. I’m not exactly sure what the criteria, therefore, the average Republican primary voter uses is, but we should be expecting just about anything.