Race to Raise: Olson vs. Miller

Who would’ve expected the race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner to be one of the most colorful, interesting battles of the 2018 election cycle? Replete with famous rock-and-rollers, criminal investigations, and military pilots, the 2018 race for “Ag Commish” is proving the old adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

Sid Miller, who is seeking a second term as Texas Agriculture Commissioner, fought off two challengers in the March Republican primary. Miller won with approximately 56% of the vote, fending off Jim Hogan, who ran against Miller in 2014 as a Democrat, as well as conservative lobbyist Trey Blocker. Miller is being challenged in November by Kim Olson, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel.

Miller represented District 59 in the Texas House from 2000 – 2013, when he lost in the primary to current House Rep. J.D. Sheffield. Miller is a farmer, rancher, and former rodeo champion, who chaired the Texas House Agriculture and Livestock Committee during his tenure in the House. Olsen, also a farmer, served 25 years in the United States Air Force, where she was part of the first generation of women to serve as a military pilots. Her service included commanding combat troops in Iraq.

Here’s a quick look at the numbers:

Texas Agricultural Commissioner – By The Numbers
Sid Miller (I)   Kim Olson 
Total Money Raised $276,102.37 $220,287.13
Total Number of Donations 340 2447
Average Donation Amount $812.07 $90.02
Total Expenditures $762,903.06 $108,727.11

Both Miller’s and Olsen’s campaigns have been haunted by controversy. In April 2016, the Texas Rangers confirmed that they were investigating Miller for potential misuse of state funds. Apparently, Miller traveled to Mississippi and Oklahoma on the state dime, without conducting any state business. Miller admitted going to Oklahoma to get a “Jesus shot,” an injection which allegedly relieves pain. In September 2016, after Miller reimbursed the state for the travel expenses, the Travis County District Attorney’s office dropped the charges.

Olson has faced her own struggles. Accused of profiting off her position in the military by using her position to benefit a private security firm she helped operate, Olson endured two years of military investigation. Ultimately, she paid a fine and accepted a reprimand rather than face a court martial. She was allowed to keep her rank and retire with an honorable discharge.

Key Takeaways from the race for Texas Agricultural Commissioner:

  1. It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me.
    Miller’s campaign treasurer is none other than rocker Ted Nugent, aka The Motor City Mad Man. Campaign finance records show Miller spent $2,000 repaying Nugent for signed guitars used for fundraising. Not to be outdone, Olson’s second highest campaign donor is Don Henley, lead singer of The Eagles, the best-selling American band in history. Henley ponied up $10,000 in support of Olson.
  2. All in the Family.
    At $25,700.66, Olson’s number one contributor to her campaign is her husband and fellow pilot, Kent Olson. Tied for second highest contributor with a donation of $10,000, is fellow female Air Force veteran, Major General Mary L. Saunders. When Saunders retired from the Air Force in 2005, she was the highest ranking African-American woman. Both Olson and Saunders have been initiated into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.
  3. Cash is King.
    When it comes to the amount of cash the candidates have available to spend as they head into November, it’s a dead heat. Miller has $138,355, while Olson has $136,767. Their total donations for this election are likewise close: Miller has collected $276,102, while Olson brought in $220,287. As an incumbent, Miller began this election with the usual advantages, including an existing pile of cash in the bank, but his two primary challengers, compared to her none, have made this a close race, at least financially.

Before you go…

Perhaps the most interesting donations to Kim Olson’s campaign are those that have not been given. Olson has received a lot of press praising her impressive credentials and suggesting she might be able to break the long streak of Democrats losing statewide elections. But Democrat PACs have been noticeably absent. Olson has received no donations from Annie’s List, a PAC dedicated to helping elect pro-choice, Democrat women; no donations from ActBlue Texas or Battleground Texas, PACs whose primary mission is to help elect Democrats; and no donations from PACs who reliably support Democrat candidates, like Border Health or Texas Trial Lawyers. Maybe these PACs, typically run by rather astute politicos, are reading the tea leaves and don’t think Olson’s campaign is a good bet after all.


Our Race to Raise series takes a deeper look at the most high-profile races of the election cycle, focusing specifically on money raised by those seeking to serve in public office. Stay tuned for the next installment.

Read More Case Studies