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Texas This Week: Meet the Republicans vying to be the next agriculture commissioner of Texas

Farmer and rancher Carey Counsil and State Rep. James White are challenging Ag Commissioner Sid Miller in the Republican primary.

AUSTIN, Texas — In this edition of Texas This Week, the Republican candidates challenging Ag Commissioner Sid Miller join KVUE's Ashley Goudeau to discuss their campaigns.

Three things to know in Texas politics

1. Texas secretary of state facing voter registration form shortage

The supply chain issues causing shortages and driving inflation across the country are also impacting Texas elections. The Texas secretary of state said vendors aren't able to get enough paper to print the usual amount of voter registration forms, so the office is having to limit how many forms it gives organizations to about 2,000 each. That may sound like a lot, but for groups like The League of Women Voters Texas, which registers thousands of people a month, it's a big setback. The league is trying to raise money to print its own forms while the secretary's office is encouraging people to print their own or request a form directly from them or their county clerk.

Click here for more information on how to register to vote, including the voter registration form that can be printed and mailed.

2. Mail-In ballot applications    

There was some clarification on the confusion about mail-in ballot applications this week. The Secretary of State's Office held trainings for clerks across the state to explain the requirements under the state's new elections law about identifying voters. But still, some applications are being denied. Voters requesting a mail-in ballot should remember to fill out the new section of the application on the upper-right hand side that asks for a DPS-issued ID number (a driver's license or personal ID number). Voters who don't have either can put the last four digits of their social security number. But the best way to make sure the county clerk can identify you and send your mail-in ballot is to just put both numbers.

Voters are also checking the status of their mail-in ballot applications online. Click here to check the status of your application.

3. U.S. Senate fails to change filibuster rule for voting rights

This week, the U.S. Senate tried to pass two voting rights bills but didn't have enough votes to change the filibuster rule to bring the legislation to the floor. Two Democratic senators opposed the rule change along with all of the Republicans, including Texas Sens. John Cornyn (R) and Ted Cruz (R). The two were in Austin on Friday speaking at the Texas Public Policy Foundation's annual policy orientation. 

Meet the Republicans running for Texas ag commissioner

As we get closer to the March primary election, the race among Republicans for ag commissioner is heating up. This week, a grand jury indicted a top aide for Commissioner Sid Miller, Todd Smith. Smith is accused of soliciting thousands of dollars from farmers to help get them hemp licenses from Miller's office – giving more fuel to the Republicans challenging Miller in the primary. 

KVUE News spoke with Miller's campaign and attempted to set up an interview about his re-election campaign, but they declined the interview. 

Carey Counsil, candidate for Texas ag commissioner

Ashley Goudeau: First, tell our viewers a little bit about yourself and why you're running for ag commissioner.

Carey Counsil: "Sure, I'm I'm a veteran. I'm a disabled veteran from the United States Air Force. I'm a father. I'm a professor at the college. I teach economics at Blinn College, have for 20 years. I'm a graduate from Texas A&M. I have a – today I'm meeting with you on Zoom, obviously, but I'm here at my home ranch, my family ranch. Me and my boys, we run about 500 acres and have about 200 mama cows. I'm really in the industry. I'm a fifth-generation rancher. My father, grandfather, great-grandfather, we all did it the hard way. Nothing was passed down from generation. We all decided to get into it and get it all on our own … I'm here to bring ethics back to Texas agriculture. There's been ethical issues with the Department of Agriculture, not so much the department, but the commissioner. The commissioner has had habitual issues with his attitude, with the problems that are going on with the department. It's a great, great organization. Texas Department of Agriculture is the No. 2 agriculture department under USDA. A fine organization, it just needs – it's mismanaged and it needs a manager, a commissioner that can actually, has ethics that can actually run the department without having problems with the other entities. He's not supported by any of the farming entities; he's not endorsed by any of the farming entities. And it's a shame when we have somebody leading the Texas Department of Agriculture that can't get along with with others."

Goudeau: You gave a lot of accolades to the Department of Agriculture, but do you think the agency is meeting its objective or is there something missing that you think is really prompting your run?

Counsil: "They're needing, the Department of Agriculture is needing leadership. It's just, there's a lot of things that I want to focus on. I think we need to focus back on agriculture in Texas, Texas commodities. We need to prioritize Texas commodities. The commission is now broadcasting out and doing a lot global. And it's OK if we're going global, but we have a huge inflation right now. The two biggest factors right now in people's budget is their fuel and their food. And fuel is up 30% and food is up over 20%. Now, if we could feed our own and then everything that we have left over, we could export, we can lower that cost and lower the cost to the consumer. That's one of the huge inflationary mechanisms. I'm a professor of economics, and it doesn't take rocket science to know that if you – it's all about supply and demand, and you have the demand for it, you need to have the supplies. So we have the supplies here in Texas, but we're also exploring a lot of our supplies. We need to make sure we take care of Texas first."

Goudeau: Give our viewers some final thoughts on why they should elect you in this March primary.

Counsil: "I think people are tired of the career politicians. People are tired of the rhetoric in Austin. People are tired of people padding their pockets and people are tired of paying taxes. I'm right there with the regular citizens. I've run cattle ranches. I've run businesses. I've managed people. I think I'm the best candidate. I am, I work well with agriculture, the agricultural community. I know the agricultural community because that's what I do – the farming and ranching and all of the row crops and all of the livestock. I can work well with the agriculture community and be a liaison from the people back to the Department of Agriculture. I'm your best candidate because that's what I do."

Click here to learn more about Carey Counsil.

State Rep. James White (R-Hillister)

Ashley Goudeau: You've served in the Texas Legislature for 12 years, representing parts of East Texas. This, of course, your first time running for a statewide office. Why do you want to be ag commissioner?

State Rep. White: "Because I love Texas. I love people who contribute to making our state strong, prosperous and free. And one group is our farmers and ranchers. They're so important in making sure that we have food security. And being a commissioner of agriculture, it gives me an opportunity to protect them and their security and promote them as well. For example, the last commissioner doubled and tripled fees on these farmers and ranchers and entrepreneurs throughout Texas. First day, I want to start rolling that back, rolling back those doubling and tripling of fees and the bureaucracy that's associated with those, those increased fees. Also, Ashley, this is an industry that needs protection from horrible federal regulation that wants to take over more control over our private property and our water rights. Ashley, it's important that we have a commissioner that sincerely promotes this industry, that sincerely is reaching out to our young Texans and our veterans and letting them know that they have careers and a future in Texas prosperity working in our agriculture industry. And that means expanding agriculture markets for our Texas ag products, not only throughout Texas and the United States, but throughout the world in a transparent and efficient manner."

Goudeau: You touched on this just a bit there with what you've been talking about, but I want to dive more into the state, the current state of the Department of Agriculture. Do you think the agency is meeting its objectives right now? Is there something missing that's prompting your run?  

State Rep. White: "Well, obviously there's something missing. For two years, farmers and ranchers and entrepreneurs have been crying out about how the current commissioner's campaign consultant, Todd Smith, has been trying to bribe them and fraud them, you know, about getting access for hemp licenses. You know, I was a coauthor of the Texas Hemp Act, which legalized agriculture hemp in this state. Farmers and ranchers are always looking for products that they can, that they can grow and cultivate and market. And so we passed that bill and we said that a hemp license would not be more than $100, but we're finding out that the commissioner and associates of the commissioner have been bribing our farmers and ranchers tens of thousands up to $150,000, trying to say that since he has some type of access to the commissioner, he can ensure that they get some type of special high-ranking hemp license. That's not true. And the commissioner, unfortunately, I don't know why, but for the last two years, and especially a few weeks ago, he told Texans that there was nothing here, that me talking about this was just another desperate politician. But in fact, we have learned that in Travis County, the commissioner's campaign consultant has been picked up and indicted for this very act of selling access to the Texas Department of Agriculture for hemp licenses."

Goudeau: Representative, do you have some final thoughts for voters about why they should vote for you in this March primary?

State Rep. White: "They should vote for me because I have a legislative record of getting rid of regulations, burdensome regulations on farmers and ranchers and other entrepreneurs that work in our agriculture industry, like our timber haulers. I also have a history of decreasing burdensome regulations in other areas where it relates to beauticians and probation officers throughout the state of Texas. I'm the only member of the Texas Legislature in this race that has made sure that we have campus carry, open carry, constitutional carry – all priorities of Republican voters. And I'm the only candidate in this race that's positioned to protect our Texas farmers and ranchers, to make sure they're not scammed any more by Commissioner Miller and his cronies, that will push back against federal encroachment on our property and water rights, that will make sure that we won't have Russian malware gangsters getting into the computer servers of our meat processors and shutting down meat processing in Texas. And we're securing the border against transnational narco gangs that are trying to intimidate our food security, our farmers and ranchers on the South Texas border."

Click here to learn more about State Rep. James White

KVUE News requested an interview with Commissioner Miller. His campaign instead sent us the following statement from Miller: 

"Todd Smith and I have mutually agreed to terminate his association with my campaign effective immediately. My campaign and the TDA will cooperate fully with any agency involved in this matter so it can be resolved openly, fairly and judiciously."

Early voting in the March primary election starts Feb. 14. Election Day is March 1. The last day to register to vote is Jan. 31.

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