Sid Miller, the Slim Pickens of Texas politics

Good morning Austin:

It is a shame that Slim Pickens is no longer with us because I can’t think of any actor more perfectly suited to star in the Sid Miller biopic – the story of how a rancher, farmer and championship rodeo cowboy from Stephenville, Texas, went from being elected Texas agriculture commissioner in 2014 to serving as secretary of state in the first Trump administration.

Pickens, a former rodeo cowboy, is best known for his role as Major T.J. “King” Kong, the ebullient B-52 pilot who, on an errant mission to nuke the Soviet Union, gives his last, whooping and hollering astride the hydrogen bomb heading towards its intended target.

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Slim Pickens as B-52 pilot ,Major T.J. “King” Kong, riding the hydrogen bomb to its intended target in 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove”

Miller first came to Trump’s attention in the dog days of August 2015 when he shared a provocative meme  on his Facebook page, suggesting that the 70 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was time to nuke “the Muslim world.”

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The posting on his campaign Facebook page drew some heat, and what was said to really impress Trump – who only a day earlier had said on Meet the Press that he got his military advice from watching the Sunday shows – was how Miller didn’t go the “loser” route of backing down, but instead doubled down, sending a terse text message from remotest China, where he was on a critical trade mission, that there would be no apologizing.

OK. So I’m projecting a bit here.

I don’t know that Trump yet knows about Sid Miller, or will ultimately tap him to guide American foreign policy if and when he is elected president.

But the rest of it is pretty much what happened, with Miller’s campaign sharing the post, taken from a Facebook page called “The Patriot’s IV Drip 2” on Sunday.

Originally, as reported by Lauren McGaughy at the Houston Chronicle, Miller’s people backed off, and removed the post late Monday morning.

Reached for comment mid-Monday, Miller’s special assistant Luke Bullock said the post was made without the commissioner’s knowledge by a staffer who does not work for the state agency.

“It was an error by a staffer. The posting did not reflect the views of Commissioner Miller and as a result it’s been removed,” Bullock said, calling the post “inappropriate.” He added Miller “will ensure that future postings do not reflect views that do not align with his view.”

But, in short order, Todd Smith, Miller’s longtime campaign consultant and political spokesman, said that, while the meme had been posted to the site without comment and without the knowledge of the commissioner, who was in the midst of an eleven-day trade mission to China, once Miller was alerted to the controversy via a very balky cell phone connection in Lanzhou, he had managed to send back his simple, certain sentiment.

The Texas Democratic Party wanted an apology and he didn’t intend to give it to them, Smith texted Miller.

“OK,” Miller texted in reply.

Linda Ryan, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department, said that Bullock, who is Miller’s scheduler in the office, was wearing his “other hat” with the Miller campaign, when he talked about the post – which had nothing to do with Miller’s official duties.

Smith told me, “the post was taken down because a TDA staffer had told a news outlet that the post had been taken down and I was trying to make sure that commitment had been honored.”

But, when some of the Miller faithful took offense at the post’s removal, Smith wanted it known that neither he nor Miller felt there was anything wrong with the post.

“The post that was placed on Commissioner Miller’s campaign Facebook page was thought-provoking. It came at a time when we are remembering the 70th anniversary of VJ Day and hopefully will cause Texans and others  to think about the current state of crisis we face in the world. Even though Commissioner Miller did not make the post and was unaware that it had been made because he was traveling in China on a trade mission at the time, we have not and we will not apologize for those who wish to discuss these important issues and use our page as a forum.”

A young Sid Miller, rodeo rider.

A young Sid Miller, rodeo rider.

Strangely, or maybe I should say strangelovely, I mentioned Dr. Strangelove in my last First Reading, recalling its subtitle,  How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb, to describe how this past weekend I came to terms with the fact that Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy seemed to be turning into the real deal.

Here’s a basic plot description of Dr. Strangelove from IMDB:

Paranoid Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper of BurpelsonAir Force Base, believing that fluoridation of the American water supply is a Soviet plot to poison the U.S. populace, is able to deploy through a back door mechanism a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union without the knowledge of his superiors, including the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Buck Turgidson and President Merkin Muffley. Only Ripper knows the code to recall the B-52 bombers and he has shut down communication in and out of Burpelson as a measure to protect this attack.

(For more on the perils of fluoride, Austin, circa this week, see Andra Lim: Anti-fluoride activists, who have been frequent faces at council meetings in the past several years, say that drinking fluoridated water lowers IQ, damages bones and causes hypothyroidism, among other dangers. Plus, it’s wasting taxpayer money, they say.)

From TV Tropes:

Gens. Ripper and Turgidson could both be seen as caricaturing different aspects of real-life USAF General Curtis LeMay.

Ripper also draws on Army General Edwin Walker, who was reprimanded by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy for distributing John Birch Society literature to his troops (illegal under the Hatch Act) and making seditious comments about American officials. After resigning Walker ran for Governor of Texas and became a well-known spokesman for right-wing causes. Today however, Walker is probably better-known for Lee Harvey Oswald trying to assassinate him.

And from the New York Times obit of LeMay:

General LeMay, who directed the air assault over Japan in the final days of World War II and relayed the Presidential order to drop nuclear bombs, years later wrote that a solution to the Vietnam War might be to bomb North Vietnam ”back into the Stone Ages.’

I hadn’t heard that turn of phrase for a long while.

But then, last August, I was covering the Koch bothers’ Americans for Prosperity summit in Dallas, when Sen. Ted Cruz invoked it, saying of ISIS:

They want to go back and reject modernity. Well, I think we should help them. We ought to bomb them back to the Stone Age.

Cruz was subsequently asked in an interview, “You said that the U.S. should bomb ISIS back to the Stone Age. Should that take congressional approval or does the president have the authority to do this on his own?”

“It should absolutely take congressional approval.” Cruz said.

Well, that’s good.

Miller has made headlines more closely associated with his role as agricultural commissioner – most notably by declaring an amnesty – not for undocumented farmworkers, but for cupcakes. He also approved the return of fried foods and sugary sodas to school lunches (see Julie Chang). Defending the Texas diet from the likes of Michelle Obama and Michael Bloomberg, it can be said that Sid Miller put the lard back in schoolyard.

Wednesday night is Miller’s big dinner with Pecan Roasters and Importers in Shanghai, where I suppose he will reveal the recipe for Pecan Duck that will expand the already booming Chinese market for Texas’ state nut.

If there is no documentary film team accompanying Miller on his trip, that is truly a terrible shame.

After all, Nixon in China became an acclaimed opera.

Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, on Monday branded Miller’s post “hate speech,” and wondered why Miller was opining on world affairs at all.

But Todd Smith said, “Our social media presence and social media engagement is one of the driving forces why Sid Miller is agriculture commissioner today,” comparing the page to Grit Magazine, which Smith used to sell as a kid.

As someone who works in a business increasingly built on clicks, there is much to admire in Miller’s page.

For example:

There is always a joke of the day, usually funny and often with a bit of a political edge to it.

Like this one, posted August 16.

The leader of the vegetarian society just couldn’t control himself anymore. He just needed to try some pork, just to see what it tasted like. So one summer day he told his members he was going on a vacation. He packed out of town, and headed to the nearest restaurant. After sitting down, he ordered a roasted pig, and impatiently waited for his delicacy.

After just a few minutes, he heard someone call his name, and to his great chagrin he saw one of his fellow members walking towards him. Just at that same moment, the waiter walked over, with a huge platter, holding a full roasted pig with an apple in it’s mouth.

“Isn’t that something,” says the leader after only a moments pause, “all I do is order an apple, and look what it comes with!”

There are tributes and shout-outs on important occasions.

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Very nice.

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Very thoughtful.

There’s some agricultural stuff.

Sid Miller
August 15 at 12:01pm ·
Here is a wonderful article from Forbes magazine that shows how a few lessons from the Texas hay fields can teach any entrepreneur the importance of scaling their business properly. Texas farmers, ranchers, and agriculture producers are leading the nation in innovation, creativity, and old fashioned hard work.

There’s some just fun stuff.

August 13 at 7:48pm ·
Learn how to make a watermelon smoothie with a watermelon, coat hanger and a power drill. This is a neat idea that I am sure your children and grandchildren will enjoy. ‪#‎gotexan‬

As the narrator explains, “Organic. Refreshing. A little bit creepy.”

And, of course, there’s Miller, fearless leader in a politically correct world.

Keeping America one nation “under God.”

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Defending Voter ID.

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Boycotting Target for going gender-neutral in some of its signage.

Sid Miller
August 13 at 2:38pm ·
Well, it looks like there will be one less store where I will be shopping. This political correctness has run amok and needs to stop now. Maybe retailers will start listening if they don’t see us in their stores. Enough is enough!

And of  course, the threat of radical Islam

Sid Miller
23 hrs ·
The brutality of ISIS is horrific. To perform these heinous acts in the name of God is abhorrent. These radical Islamic barbarians must be stopped and to do that means they must be destroyed.

Here he links to the truly horrific recent report in the New York Times – ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape by Rukmini Callimachi

My guess is that if you were to show the nuclear meme that was posted on a Miller’s page to a majority of Americans, they would wince with disapproval, but if you showed it to them immediately after reading that New York Times story, the wince might be slower in coming.

Here are some of the posts from Miller’s page talking about the meme.

Islam Ayad-Albuttma In your position, you have a responsibility to the people. Either you stick to your guns and uphold your islamophobic views or you apologize for being wrong. You shouldn’t be able to have it both ways. There are many Muslim American families who’ve sacraficed their blood and Family for the sake of the USA. not only are you disgracing them, you disgrace all of America and what we stand for

Yosefa Leah You are a terribly racist and xenophobic human. I’m sorry the political parties of Texas are so backward that they would endorse such incredible hatred. You should be ashamed of your behavior. Standing proud with islamophobia doesn’t make you a decent politician—it makes you a public bigot. But that’s no surprise to a state that caters to a white fundamentalist patriarchal imperialist agenda.

John Slate Sick, Un-American and Un-Christian bigot. you are a stain on the great state of Texas. Stick to your cupcakes and fried foods.

Danna Duenas Yosefa Leah perhaps you would be happier in a Muslim country where women are beaten raped and murdered at the whim of a man .Where you have no voice no right to education or what you choose to wear..And can be given to other men where you are not even as valuable as their camel.

Karon Hartzo Thanks Sid you are not the only one who thinks we should drop “the big one” on those murdering pedophiles that call themselves ISIS, but before we did they should be sprayed with bacon grease. Don’t run from the truth just because some liberal idiot got butt-hurt.

 Renee Updike Sid Miller I was looking for your post from Sunday where I read in the news you posted something “controversial” regarding Muslim’s. It appears you took it down. I haven’t been on for a couple of days or I would have “liked” it and had your “back”. Before you take something down check with us, the people who voted you in office! We got your back here in TX.

Sid Miller
August 16 at 9:14pm ·
We did it my friends!!! 105,000 Facebook LIKES before Midnight. In fact, we did it with three hours to spare. Thank you for stepping up and helping us reach our goal. I am blessed to have the most dedicated and hard working campaign supporters in Texas. Thank you for standing with me, for Texas, and for the values that make us strong! God bless you and may God continue to bless Texas.

******

I’ll close with Miller’s joke of the day from August 12:

A farmer was driving along the road with a load of fertilizer. A little boy, playing in front of his house, saw him and called, “What’ve you got in your truck?”

“Fertilizer,” the farmer replied.

“What are you going to do with it?” asked the little boy.

“Put it on strawberries,” answered the farmer.

“You ought to live here,” the little boy advised him. “We put sugar and cream on ours.”

Texas Agriculture Commissioner candidate Sid Miller on October 15, 2014. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Texas Agriculture Commissioner candidate Sid Miller on October 15, 2014. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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