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2009-01-15

New District 73 Rep holds ‘grip & grin’ session

By Judith Pannebaker

An ebullient Doug Miller paused in Bandera during his whistle stop swing of District 73 prior to being sworn in as state representative Tuesday, Jan. 13, in Austin.

The nearly newly minted Miller met with approximately 20 community movers and shakers - and elected officials - at the Bandera Electric Cooperative Thursday, Jan. 8. “I wanted to get broad based input from community leaders before heading to Austin,” he said.

After describing last year’s economic downward spiral as “challenging,” Miller reminded his constituents that the Lone Star State, which boasts the 11th largest economy in the United States, is one of only nine states not currently facing a fiscal deficit.

“We have a rainy day fund and, while we must manage it carefully, this gives us an advantage,” he said. In addition, Miller reported that normal consumer confidence index ranks at 100, but in Texas, it’s 75. On its face, that number might not appear encouraging, however, he pointed out that in the so-called “Rust Belt,” the consumer confidence index clocks in at 23 and in California at a pitiful two points.

Miller added that while in Texas one of every 1,000 homes is in foreclosure, in California, it’s one in every 95. “People are running out of the ‘Rust Belt,’ as well as Arizona, California, Florida and Nevada,” he said - and apparently heading for Texas.
“For the most part, we’re in fairly good shape,” he said. “Texas is staying ahead of the curve.”

One coup that Miller recently participated in was “Project Snow,” a commercial consolidation and relocation that created 2,500 jobs and brought an $85 million annual payroll and 1,000,000 square foot manufacturing facility to Texas - Seguin, to be exact. “The company, Caterpillar, could have built a plant in Mexico or South Carolina, but they chose Central Texas,” he said. The maneuver received a code name because of a nondisclosure agreement with the company.

Regarding the recent race for Speaker of the Texas House, Miller said he took a page from the book of Admiral Chester Nimitz: bide your time, keep your powder dry and take advantage of a situation if it presents itself.

The situation apparently presented itself when Rep. Joe Straus unseated three-term House Speaker Tom Craddick. Straus is one of Miller’s longtime personal friends and supporters. “I was the 76th person to sign his petition,” Miller said with a degree of pride. As the new speaker, he felt Straus would be “good for the state rather than for his personal well-being.”

Miller added, “I think a close relationship with the Speaker will bode well for District 73.”

Before concluding his visit, Miller took an informal poll of critical local issues. “We want to hear your issues, concerns and suggestions. We are open and we work for you,” he said, promising to hold similar meetings in the future.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Richard Keese related the county’s current inability to extract water from the Medina River to allow construction of needed roads.

“TNRCC (now Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) pulled our permits because of the extreme drought,” Keese explained. “We’re only asking for 33 acre-feet a year. Counties under a population of 50,000 need some relief. It’s not cost effective to take water from Medina Lake and haul it to Vanderpool. Contractors ignore the ruling, but we’re trying to comply with the law. This is a problem faced by all small counties.”

Miller concurred with Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King’s suggestion that the court pass a resolution outlining the problem - and outline a possible solution - and forward it to Miller.

“I have no problem going to a state agency,” he said. “It’s amazing how much friendlier people have become since November.”

Taking off his county attorney hat and donning one more appropriate to the president of the Ranchers and Land Owners Association, John Payne asked Miller’s opinion about the National Animal Identification Program. “Less government is better government,” Miller replied succinctly.

County Judge Richard Evans gleaned a promise from Miller not to oppose increased local authority to manage growth - provided it was presented as a local option.

“Stopping growth is not realistic,” Miller said. “Austin believed ‘if we don’t build it, they won’t come.’ That (policy) didn’t work out well for Austin. Counties adjacent to large metropolitan areas must come with a proactive plan to manage growth.”

Needed legislation, commissioners hoped, will grow from recent resolutions passed by courts in counties participating in the Hill County County Coalition. For a complete account of the resolution, refer to the Thursday, Jan. 8, edition of the Bandera County Courier.

Reiterating that “local option” would be a key to any such legislation, Miller said increased authority for counties to manage growth would be one bill he would consider sponsoring this legislative session. Describing the last six years as “not exactly local friendly,” he noted, “Under the new speaker, we’ll see some changes in that regard.”

Water issues and increased density also concerned Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris, especially groundwater set to be utilized by a mega-development, Hills of Castle Rock, poised to spill over 40 acres in his district.

Jim Hannah pointed out District 73 is on the front line of the Austin-San Antonio corridor.”

“We will continue to see growth in this area,” King added.
Acknowledging the on-going problem, Miller said, “We’re in a challenging environment in Texas. We still value ownership and private property rights, but the environment is changing.”

“People who move here don’t have the same views we do,” Evans said.

“Then we’ll just have to teach ‘em to be Texans,” Miller concluded.