86th LegislatureElections 2020IssuesState HouseRick Miller Controversy Amplifies Lingering Scandals for Texas House Ahead of Primary Season

The incendiary remarks made by Rep. Rick Miller--and his subsequent decision to not seek reelection--is just the latest in seemingly never-ending Texas House drama.
December 5, 2019
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The Texas House has been rocked by controversy since the end of the legislative session in late May, involving a state representative’s felony possession of cocaine, a quid pro quo offered by the speaker to an outside group, and controversial statements that resulted in yet another elected official choosing not to seek reelection. 

This week, Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land) made headlines after he made derogatory statements to the Houston Chronicle that inferred his primary opponents were running because of their race. 

“He’s Korean,” said Miller of opponent Jacey Jutton, former county chair for the Republican Party. He then continued, saying Leonard Chan entered the race “probably for the same reason.”

Miller said Jetton decided to run because he thought “my district might need an Asian to win,” and went on to say this supposed intent was “racist.”

The state representative immediately faced backlash from leaders of his party. 

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Governor Greg Abbott, who publicly endorsed Miller in October, rescinded his endorsement while the county chair of Miller’s own home county called on him to resign.

Miller then said he wouldn’t run for reelection in House District 26.

Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey said Miller made “the right decision” after making “unacceptable comments.”

“The Republican Party does not play identity politics and does not tolerate racist or discriminatory remarks or actions. We look forward to helping the winner of the Primary Election keep House District 26 in Republican hands,” said Dickey.

Democrats have already set their sights on the seat heading into 2020.

In 2018, Miller won reelection against his Democrat opponent with just under a 5-point margin, while Sen. Ted Cruz lost by 1.6 points to then-Congressman Beto O’Rourke.

This is just the latest development in the continually shifting landscape that surrounds those serving in the Texas House.

Earlier this year, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) was caught offering grassroots leader Michael Quinn Sullivan a quid pro quo — media credentials for Sullivan’s organization in exchange for the selective targeting of 10 Republican incumbents

The House General Investigating Committee then called on the Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit to investigate the incident, and later Sullivan released a recording of the meeting that corroborated the account told by the grassroots leader. While Bonnen’s actions were found not to have been criminal, the fallout from the closed-door meeting was significant.

In Bonnen’s case, GOP leadership remained largely silent until after Bonnen announced he would not seek reelection to the Texas House, and by the time Bonnen announced he wouldn’t run for reelection on October 22, only 29 of the 82 Republican members of the House had called for him to step down. 

Many of these House members followed suit and called for their leader’s resignation only after five of Bonnen’s own committee chairmen called on him to resign.

Less than a month later, an affidavit became public in which Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) was found to have dropped an envelope marked by his state letterhead and containing four packets of cocaine at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Nevarez was arrested and released on bail, and Texas GOP leadership once again remained largely silent in the face of this controversy. 

Just weeks before, Nevarez had announced he would not run for his seat again after deleting his Facebook account. A myriad of state representatives came forward to praise their colleague for his work in the statehouse, but many deleted their posts after the affidavit detailing the cocaine incident surfaced.

As candidates and officials of both parties gear up for what will undoubtedly be a contentious campaign cycle, questions surrounding both the political baggage each party will be carrying into the election and the moral clarity of their respective leaders will undoubtedly continue to be raised.

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McKenzie Taylor

McKenzie Taylor

McKenzie Taylor serves as Interim Editor and resident plate-spinner for The Texan. Previously, she worked as State Representative Kyle Biedermann’s Capitol Director during the 85th legislative session before moving to Fort Worth to manage Senator Konni Burton’s campaign. In her free time, you might find her enjoying dog memes, staring at mountains, or proctoring personality tests.