Monday is the first day of early voting for the May 27 Democratic and Republican primary runoff elections.
The Republican race for Agriculture Commissioner is between two former state legislators, Stephenville's Sid Miller and Longview's Tommy Merritt. And unlike the other GOP primaries, this one hasn't only focused on who's the most conservative – for the most part.
That's because for Miller, this race is about conservative credentials. And he'll quickly let you know that he's got empirical data on his side.
"You know Rice University took all the votes … and ranked the legislators from one to 50 on how conservative they were. And I was ranked No. 2 and my opponent was ranked the most liberal of the Republicans," Miller says.
When Tommy Merritt talks about his qualifications for the job, he focuses on experience: founding and growing his own business, and sitting on the board of the Sabine River Authority for six years.
"You look at water and water issues, you need to have experience," he says. "And so my vast experience brings me to that and to work with rural Texas to make sure that they're treated fairly. And that we work with suburbia and urban Texas to make sure that they conserve water adequately."
Miller believes water is important too – but a close second in importance to what he considers Job 1 if and when he becomes Agriculture Commissioner. He believes the greatest threat to the state's agricultural economy is what he calls an overreaching federal government, "whether it's the Bureau of Land Management on the Red River trying to seize 90,000 acres of farm and ranch land and not pay one dime for it," he says. "Or the EPA trying to subvert the Supreme Court and Congress and lay claim to all of our waters in Texas."
For Merritt, he wants to figure out better ways to spend the money that flows into the commissioner's office through various federal grants, including the $1.5 billion Texas receives for the federal school lunch program. He says not enough questions are currently being asked to properly monitor its spending.
"Can I see the menu, can I see the ingredients and can I save money administering a better school lunch program? I think my business background brings me that," Merritt says.
Merritt says a second place finish in the primary doesn't hurt his chances at winning the runoff in May. He's spending the next week and a half telling that to any and all Republican groups he goes before.
Miller is also crisscrossing the state. He told KUT he picked up an endorsement from Gov. Rick Perry this week (although Perry’s office was unable to confirm the endorsement Thursday night).
You can listen to full interviews with both candidates at the links below: