In November, voters will decide contests for a number of statewide offices, from governor to attorney general. The agriculture commissioner is also on the ballot, with incumbent Sid Miller, a Trump-backed Republican, facing the Democrat Susan Hays.
Hays’ campaign issues include rural economic development, expanding health care, legalizing marijuana and fighting corruption. She explained to the Texas Standard why she, a progressive, decided to challenge a conservative incumbent in a deep red state. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been slightly edited for clarity:
Texas Standard: You are a Democrat running in a largely conservative state. Your opponent is a starter with a lot more name recognition. But he has the support of some high-profile national figures, including Donald Trump. What influenced your decision to face Sid Miller?
Susan Hays: Seeing how badly run this agency is and the notorious bribery and corruption. I helped draft and pass the law legalizing hemp in Texas, and the commissioner of agriculture regulates the hemp program and he was going through his rulemaking process. So I went to the hearings, got to know some of the staff, and it was just a hot mess. Much of what I witnessed led to the indictment of the commissioner’s political consultant for attempting to unknowingly sell $100 unlimited hemp licenses for tens of thousands of dollars.
Well, you know, these things can happen in fairly large agencies and departments. I was thinking when you were talking about writing the hemp law – Miller passed it, if I remember correctly now.
Yes, he did. But, you know, he wasn’t much help. And at the time, we really needed better regulations from the USDA. Trump was in power and Sid was an early Trump supporter. But I saw him unable to change anything, unable to use the power that you would think he would have as a Trump guy.
RELATED: A Conversation with Outgoing Republican Commissioner Sid Miller.
Well, it seems the biggest issue you were looking at, and correct me if I’m wrong, is rural development. Why is this factor so important in your campaign?
Well, I grew up in rural Texas. I was in a county that had some sort of regional hospital that used to be locally controlled – it’s now private and poorly run. Hospitals are failing all over Texas. [My husband and I] largely live in Alpine, and we’ve spent the pandemic nervously watching. And there are three counties sharing a hospital with 25 beds and only three ventilators. And you’re hours away from your next best option. And so this office – and who knew? The agricultural commission has a rural hospital program. The State Office of Rural Health is there and rural economic development. And there is a lot of potential in these programs. So a big reason I wanted to run was to get these programs out of the ground, strengthen them, and work day and night to try to save rural health care in Texas.
Well, you anticipated what I was going to ask, because when you started talking about hospitals, I thought, Commissioner for Agriculture, really? It sounds like the Legislative Assembly might be more appropriate, if you talk about the kind of sweeping changes you’re suggesting.
You know, sometimes legislative changes are necessary. But a big part of that job is pulling those federal funds out for economic development programs or health care.
You describe yourself as the first cannabis super lawyer. What does this title mean?
Super Avocado is a sort of private promotion and branding deal that has been around for quite some time. I was a civil appellate lawyer for a few years, and as I changed my practice, I was named a “super lawyer” in the cannabis category.
So what would you like to see Texas do, and how would your role as agriculture commissioner fit into that?
We need to expand the medical cannabis program quickly and completely, and then we also need to decriminalize and legalize. And when we say legalize, that doesn’t necessarily mean hippies running amok in the streets, which I think a lot of haters might visualize. Instead, it means having a sound regulatory regime that ensures the products consumers have access to are safe and accurately labeled.
How is it in a socially conservative Texas? Not only are you campaigning in rural Texas, which also has a rather socially and politically conservative history. Now you go out there saying, “I believe in rural Texas, I want to legalize marijuana. »
It’s amazing how popular it is. And if you look at the poll data, the medical data [marijuana] is almost perfectly bipartisan and enjoys high support. For legalization, there is a partisan divide, but Democrats and independents want to see it legalized, and a growing number of Republicans want to see it legalized. And the other reality we have to face is that cannabis products are already here. And not just the traditional criminal black market, but Dallas PTA moms come from Colorado with products. And no one wants to throw them in jail for it.
But something I hear you talking about, though, is those sorts of broader political and social implications, when it comes to criminal justice, all those implications. As Commissioner for Agriculture, what we have heard…
Why is this my job?
Well, I mean, I wouldn’t ask that question on the nose. However, we’ve heard Republican Sid Miller talk about things like abortion, the Second Amendment, property taxes, and obviously part of the larger political conversation, of course. And yet, you think, well, what about the agricultural department? Are you suggesting that marijuana is a reasonable cash crop for growers here in Texas? I mean, there are a lot of hemp growers out there who feel like they’re kind of stoned. They didn’t make a lot of money from hemp.
And yes, cannabis markets, like any new market, are very volatile. On top of that, in this growing season, we had drought and that devastated the cotton crop. It also hit the hemp harvest. But in the long term, as the markets stabilize and government action absolutely plays a role in stabilizing the market with cannabis, this presents an opportunity for a high-value crop where a farmer can make a living on a relatively small area if he gets good results. to grow it. And it’s not as easy to grow it and grow it well as people might think. It is therefore absolutely up to Commissioner AG to seek new economic models for agriculture and to promote them.
You know, we talked about it. There are a lot of farmers in Texas, family farms that go back generations, and there are a lot of farmers sitting around the tables late at night paying the bills, and they just don’t see how they can stay in business. What can you tell them that might convince them to vote for a Democrat for that position?
The job of this position is to bring as many federal dollars back to Texas as possible. And one thing about the agriculture industry that a lot of people out there don’t fully understand or haven’t been exposed to is that agriculture is a heavily subsidized industry. And it’s not because we want handouts from farmers – farmers aren’t the type to accept them. It is a matter of national security. It’s a matter of food safety. So there are loans and grants administered by the USDA that help stabilize farmers and help them survive through lean years so they can continue to produce our food and fiber. The job of this office is to maximize that.