State GOP Boss and Farm Chief Ally Could View
Pandemic Protest as Higher Office Springboard
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
October 10, 2020
Texas GOP Chairman Allen West basked in chants from supporters pitching him as a candidate for governor on Saturday at a pandemic restrictions protest in front of the current incumbent's residence across the street from the statehouse in downtown Austin.
But one of the party chief's fellow demonstrators - Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller - would probably have a more realistic shot than West at the role of conservative alternative in a GOP primary fight for the state's top job that Governor Greg Abbott could be seeking again in 2022.
In the event of an internal challenge to Abbott two years from now, the leading challenger would most likely come from the hard right that West and Miller have as their respective bases. There's been speculation in the past year or so that former Texas Senate Republican Don Huffines might weigh a bid for governor in the next election cycle.
Huffines, a wealthy Dallas developer, had been Abbott's sharpest critic in the GOP before the coronavirus arrival here in March. But West has been the most visible Abbott detractor since he captured the partisan leadership post in June amid the simmering ashes of a state party convention meltdown on Zoom.
West has been the most unconventional party chair in modern Texas history with constant verbal broadsides at a governor from the same party in the closing stages of an election that's shaping up as nightmare for the GOP. An African-American who's leading a state party that's long been dominated by white men, West has claimed to have communicated with Davy Crockett in visits to the Alamo Cenopath that a flash point for conservatives in Texas.
Miller on the other hand is a former world-champion rodeo cowboy who likened himself this summer to a modern day Paul Revere on a mission to warn fellow Texans about a socialist revolution that Democratic victories at the ballot box this fall will facilitate.
But West acknowledged at the rally at the Governor's Mansion today that he's caught for heat for stoking division at a time when the state chairs of the past would have been preaching unity.
West revealed that the Brazos County GOP Chairman David Hilburn had raised concerns about the rhetorical salvos that complaints that he's been airing on Abbott overreach and tyranny could backfire at the polls with the early voting period in Texas getting under way on Monday. But assured his admirers at the protest today that he'd learned in a career as an Army officer that true leaders were always determined to do the right thing regardless of the timing or the consequences.
The cost of internal warring could be steep on November 3 where Democrats appears poised to seize the Texas House majority, a state Senate district and several congressional seats that Republicans will be trying to defend with their odds of survival getting shorter every day.
The Republicans are on the brink of electoral devastation in Texas and beyond almost entirely as a result of President Donald Trump's recent erratic behavior on top of his performance during the COVID-19 crisis. A narrow Trump victory at the top of the Texas ticket will be no consolation whatsoever if Joe Biden wins the race for president and the Democrats take the state House back after 18 years as the minority party.
But Trump's collapse hasn't appeared to dampen the loyalty that West and Miller both have demonstrated for the president before and during the pandemic.
While Miller would have to give up his current position if he decided to run for governor instead, he could expect to run on his strong ties to the president who's referred to the state farm boss in the past as his man in Texas. But Abbott would be able to counter that by pointing out that Trump lavished praise on him a meeting at the White House during the spring when the president said Texas would be a model for the nation on how to contain the virus.
Miller has substantially more experience as an elected official than Trump and West combined - having served a dozen years in the Texas House before his first winning race for agriculture commissioner in 2014. While Miller had lost his House seat two years earlier in the primary election, he demonstrated his vast confidence, resiliency and grassroots love when he bounced back to win statewide in the next cycle.
West had been ousted from the U.S. House by a Democrat in 2012 - the same year that GOP State Rep. J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville unseated Miller.
The conservatives who rallied against the virus rules picked a time for the protest when Abbott wasn't home to watch from a window because he was attending the Texas-Oklahoma game at the Cotton Bowl instead. But West sought to ensure that the governor would get the message by leaving a copy of critical resolution that the State Republican Executive Committee had passed at the front gate of the Mansion.