The Republican candidates generally favor looser rules on the industry, directing most of their ire at the Obama administration, which they say unduly burdens business.
The candidates are seeking to replace Republican David Porter, who decided not to run for re-election to the three-person, all-Republican commission that oversees the agency: “It became obvious to me that I’d have to raise a million or two dollars in the next few months,” Porter, an accountant from Midland, told the American-Statesman in December.
That’s because Rosenberg businessman Gary Gates, who made money in real estate, has loaned his campaign $2 million, according to campaign filings, and has already spent $185,000 on advertising. Gates reportedly spent at least $1.7 million in an unsuccessful run for a state Senate seat in 2014, the latest in a string of high-dollar losses.
Gates could find his stiffest competition in John Greytok, an Austin attorney who has $50,000 on hand — his campaign received a $25,000 contribution from his mother, Marta Greytok, who served as a Texas Public Utility commissioner, and $50,000 from Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans (John Greytok is listed as a lobbyist for the Texans and for the city of Austin) — and Wayne Christian, a former state representative from East Texas who lost a primary runoff election for another slot on the commission in 2014.
Christian’s campaign appears to have raised no money, according to mid-January filings, and Christian briefly suspended his campaign in December — he had to deal with family issues, he said — but he’s seemingly the front-runner by dint of his experience and his narrow loss last time around.
Greytok said the Railroad Commission should battle the Obama administration.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “is way too cozy with radical environmentalists. It’s biased, unfair, and impractical,” he said. “The point is not to issue a whole raft of regulations that are detached from reality.”
Christian pointed to his experience on committees that monitored the Railroad Commission, which he said makes him a good fit as the agency undergoes legislative review.
The resistance by industry to a name change is “partly because there’s a desire to keep it in the dark,” he said.
Other Republican candidates include Weston Martinez, a member of the Texas Real Estate Commission who has worked in oil and gas business development; Doug Jeffrey, an Air Force veteran and rancher; Ron Hale, an engineer who has worked for an oil field security company; and Lance Christian, a Railroad Commission geoscientist.
Democratic contenders include former state Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth, whose campaign has $3,310; Travis County Democratic precinct chairman and one-time journalist Cody Garrett, whose campaign contributions include $2,000 from Austin developer Perry Lorenz; and Grady Yarbrough, a former educator who lives in Tyler.
Burnam pointed to his experience as an ally to environmentalists during his time at the Capitol, stressing the need for transparency at a “captured state agency” — in the general election, winning candidates have tended to get much of their campaign donations from the oil and gas industry.
Garrett says he wants to “restore balance” to the all-Republican commission, he says in his campaign literature.
The current commissioners, he said, are “a heck of a lot more interested in Exxon, Chevron, Valero, Halliburton and British Petroleum than they are about safety, workers, consumers and the price at the pump.”
Early voting starts Feb. 16. The election is March 1.