Steve Brown is the Democratic nominee for Texas Railroad Commissioner, the agency that oversees the state's oil and gas industry. Brown is facing Republican Ryan Sitton who was an outlier in a primary otherwise dominated by the Tea Party.
Sitton was able to buck the Tea Party trend in large part because of his support from the very industry he would be tasked to regulate.
According to campaign finance filings the Texas Tribune reports Sitton received $152,000 from the oil and gas industry, more than half of his total money raised.
See why SItton may want to avoid talking about reform below the jump...
Oh dear Lord. When Railroad Commissioner candidate Roland Sledge saw Warren Chisum's B-movie style campaign ad featuring shotguns and hard-hats, I guess Sledge figured he needed to really up the ante to catch voters' attention. Here's his entry in the 5-way Republican primary for Railroad Commish:
Now, to be fair, the Texas Railroad Commission probably has more to do with peeing on fences than the actual railroad. Slagle' experience in the actual oil and gas industry may make him legitimately qualified for the job (arguably a risk in Republican primaries). But in reality, serving on the Railroad Commission is about refusing to regulate our oil and gas industries and threatening the EPA.
The Texas Tribune reports that at a forum in Wichita Falls, candidates were tripping over each other to diss the EPA and President Obama:
"Let me tell you, these people can ruin your life," state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, said last week at a forum in Wichita Falls that was organized by the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. "If they ever require an EPA permit before you drill a well, your lease will expire."
Roland Sledge, a Houston lawyer who has specialized in oil and gas for 35 years, spoke repeatedly of the "relentless assault" by the EPA on the oil and gas industry.
Christi Craddick, another candidate, went up another level. "Let's get rid of [President] Obama if we do nothing else," said Craddick, a lawyer specializing in oil, gas and water and who is the daughter of state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland. "This man hates the state. ... I want to make sure he gets on a solar-powered airplane and flies someplace else," like China.
Lest we forget, the Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with protecting human health and the environment. They're making sure that we have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, healthy land to farm, and as little hazardous waste in your backyard as possible. Evidently, these Republicans want to do away with all of those things. But that's cool, because we can privatize the air, right?
Now that Chisum and Sledge have made their mark on TV, I can only wonder what Christi "Daughter of Tom" Craddick has up her sleeve. Maybe she can turn her "Send Obama to China" comment into a TV spot. I'd encourage all remaining candidates to refer to the single best commissioner ad of all time ever, Dale Peterson's ad for Alabama Ag Commissioner.
Remember, Republicans, if the Democrats are laughing at your ads, that means they're working!
With one week left before Election Day, there are not a lot of places left where a last minute splash of cash can change the direction of a statewide race. It's too late to gear up direct mail production that isn't already in process and by the time you hire new field organizers the election may be over. But late TV buys, while more expensive per point now, are still a place where late money can be funneled- especially if the targeting is already done.
With tens of millions already spent to define and promote the issues at the top of the ballot, it's very unlikely that an additional $1 million in the Governor's race would be the gamechanging financial move. But for underfunded downballot races a similar investment could provide a major impact, and in some cases, provide a positive spillover across the ticket. The biggest thing that could happen to the Democrats this fall to boost the Party's chances in 2012 and 2014 is simple- win a statewide race. The momentum and fundraising that a single breakthrough win would provide could easily turn a $1 million investment in 2010 into a $3-$10 million value over the next few years. It's hard to quantify, but coming away empty handed costs the party millions every cycle between the dollars spent re-energizing the base from square one and the lost fundraising from new donors who would otherwise open their wallets once they know they aren't wasting their money on yet another hopeless cycle.
Below I outline 3 races where someone like Steve Mostyn, Farouk Shami, Tony Sanchez, or another forward thinking Democratic donor could make a strategic investment and impact the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections all at once. Not to mention make a name for themselves.
Lt. Governor's Race: Linda Chavez-Thompson
Incumbent Lt. Governor David Dewhurst is well funded, but his polling is weaker than other statewide Republcians. More importantly, Linda Chavez-Thompson's entire campaign operation is built around turning out voters in the triangle formed by South Texas, San Antonio, and El Paso. She's talked about benefits of turning out the Hispanic vote- something she can do, wants to do, and will do if she had the money to fully implement her plan. Her media plan is focused, obvious, and can easily scale up. Her campaign is more than shovel ready- it's already turning dirt. Swap out the shovel for an excavator and she can dig up a mountain of votes. Dewhurst isn't talking to these voters- he's too busy advertising to white, right-leaning voters in his quest to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2012. And every vote that Chavez-Thompson turns out in the Southern Triangle is highly likely to be voting for Bill White and the rest of the Democratic ticket.
Value: Best place for a rising tide to lift all boats.
Ag Commissioner's Race: Hank Gilbert
Lost in the media's hubbub about the "negativity" of this race is the fact that Hank Gilbert has garnered a ton of earned media in primary and secondary markets across the state, many of which aren't online and have flown under the radar of most electoral observers. The variety of stories and hits is second only to Bill White's. The only statewide candidate to have run before against the same opponent, Gilbert has been busy executing his plan in East & West Texas. He can't claim as many newspaper endorsements, but he's blocked a number of the second tier markets from taking a side. He's easily the most authentically 'rural' candidate on the ballot and has been in tune with the simmering anger in the electorate for over 4 years; he never stopped running for this office, setting up anti-toll road (and anti-Perry) groups around the state. As of the last report he had about $100,000 on hand, but incumbent Todd Staples only had about $750,000 most of which has been spent on both sides. Staples is still a weak fundraiser like he was in 2006 and is prone to being spooked into draining his campaign accounts. Unlike Perry or Combs or Abbott, he does not have a skilled political team or instincts. Gilbert's media plan is ready to go and being an Ag Commission candidate, is not going head-to-head in the urban markets in which White and Perry have run up the prices. Added bonus- big Republican donors aren't loyal to Staples, there is a Libertarian in the race, and there is no GOP-sponsored Green Party candidate running.
Value: Higher name ID downballot Democrat with cheap east and west Texas media versus the least skillful, shortest serving statewide Republican incumbent who happens to be low on cash. Plus a Libertarian. And no Green.
Railroad Commissioner's Race: Jeff Weems
Besides the fact that most of the electorate doesn't know we have a Railroad Commissioner (not to mention three of them), this race is unique. Generic no-name Republican David Porter forced incumbent Victor Carrillo into a runoff- and then beat him- by 22 points- while spending 1/20th as much as Carrillo. This led to the infamously blistering Carrillo attack on Porter and the Republican Party for its knee-jerking anti-Hispanic voting tendencies. Other than being James Leininger's PAC treasurer, Porter is an unqualified nobody from Giddings that doesn't campaign. Even his friends thought he was crazy. Democratic Jeff Weems, a Houston energy lawyer and third-generation son of the oil patch, is immeasurably qualified. He's earned every newspaper endorsement in the race. Harvey Kronberg has stated that "If this is an industry-only election, Weems would win." The 8-Day campaign finance report are out and it's shocking how little money there is in this race. If not for Porter's small personal loan, he'd have just $18,000 cash on hand. Weems has been trouping around many of the same areas as Gilbert and shares many of the same benefits of cheaper, ready to access rural media markets. But unless something changes, the GOP, Dems, Libertarians, and Green will have a 4-way battle of "who's name do voters like best" to decide our next Railroad Commissioner.
Value: If you think GOP donors aren't hot on Todd Staples, they really don't give a hoot about David Porter. With fellow Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams distracted by posturing for Sen. Hutchison's Senate seat, a funded Weems could pass by an unaided Porter and create a foothold for Democrats.
Campaign donations in Texas are often a matter of risk versus reward. I believe in every Democrat running statewide, but with one week to go, it's my belief that these races offer specific opportunities. Our oft-forgotten statewide judicial candidates may yet pull the highest vote percentages (like Bill Moody and Sam Houston in 06 and 08) but voters are harder to persuade in judicial races and statewide judges clearly can't be the same sort of advocates, fundraisers, or campaigners as the other elected officeholders I mentioned.
Now if only I had $1 million.
While I have worked with the Gilbert campaign on their email strategy, but I do not have a contractual financial interest with the other campaigns; other writers through GNI Strategies have worked with Chavez-Thompson.
David Porter, the little known Republican nominee for the Texas Railroad Commission, has been the treasurer of the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (TRLCC) since 2006. That's when school-voucher activist James Leininger used Porter's PAC as a $2 million vehicle to attack the GOP incumbents who had opposed Leininger's agenda. Most incumbents survived the Leininger-funded primary challenges but the episode highlighted the overt attempt by one man with unlimited money to try to buy a half dozen seats in the legislature for his pet issue- school vouchers.
Created by GOP consultant Jeff Norwood, GOP activist Bill Crocker and Porter, the now-dormant TRLCC PAC may provide Texas' best-documented case of a candidacy operating as an almost wholly owned subsidiary of a single PAC, consultant and donor. As if losing every newspaper endorsement to Democrat Jeff Weems, wasn't enough of a reason to vote against David Porter, here is another.
Public Citizen, Environmental Defense Fund Call for Independent State Agency to Coordinate State's Energy Efficiency Efforts
AUSTIN - In response to the Public Utility Commission's (PUC) planned adoption of new energy efficiency goals, Public Citizen and Environmental Defense Fund today called for sweeping changes to the way Texas runs its energy efficiency programs. The groups said that a single independent state agency would better serve Texas because it could coordinate programs currently regulated by multiple agencies and reduce agency overlap.
"We have no confidence in the Public Utility Commission process," said David Power, deputy director of Public Citizen's Texas office. "The time has come to change the way Texas saves energy because the current setup is ineffective. It is time for the Legislature to take control and create a new state agency that can put consumers first and save more money."
The groups plan to send a letter to state Sen. Troy Fraser, chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, and state Reps. Jim Keffer and Burt Solomons, chairs of the House Energy Resources and State Affairs Committees, asking them to support legislation in the upcoming session to create an independent efficiency agency.
Under current law, the PUC, the agency in charge of regulating most of the state's "poles and wires" companies, is supposed to review and approve the energy efficiency programs of the utilities. But other state agencies oversee efficiency programs too, including the Department of Housing and Community Affairs and State Energy Conservation Office. Housing the coordination of these efforts under one roof would help streamline state regulation and create more savings potential for Texans, the groups said.
"Several agencies either run or oversee similar programs," said Kate Robertson, energy efficiency specialist with Environmental Defense Fund. "In some instances, like market outreach, a single state agency could coordinate the activities of all efficiency programs instead of multiple people doing the same thing for their own programs."
The groups also criticized the PUC's negative attitude toward energy efficiency. Over the past year and a half, agency staff had been developing plans to increase the state's goal for energy efficiency. On Friday, however, the three commissioners appointed by Gov. Rick Perry slashed the proposal dramatically, ostensibly for cost reasons, reducing the efficiency goal from 1 percent of peak demand by 2014 to a third of the growth in demand by 2013 - a much smaller increase. The PUC even has proposed curtailing the amount utilities can spend on efficiency measures.
"It is baffling to us that the commission thinks energy efficiency is not worth the cost," said Matthew Johnson, a policy analyst with Public Citizen's Texas office. "Ratepayers' utility bills pay primarily for fuel like natural gas and coal, power plants and the grid infrastructure. Energy efficiency costs around a dollar per month on a typical $100 electric bill and it pays for itself by reducing the need for new, costly power plants."
Energy efficiency has had a long track record of success since the Legislature passed the first statewide goal as part of the massive 1999 electric deregulation bill. In recent years, several independent and internal reports on energy efficiency potential and cost effectiveness have been published for the PUC. None of them, however, appear to have persuaded the commission to pursue energy efficiency as a consumer-friendly energy resource.
"There are at least four internal PUC and independent reports done in the last four years that show Texas can achieve higher energy efficiency goals" said Robertson. "Every one of them shows that efficiency saves consumers money and has a payback of 2 or 3 to 1. An independent agency's primary focus would be on achieving these goals and saving Texans money on their energy bills."
Agencies that manage non-electric efficiency programs, like the Water Development Board and potentially the Railroad Commission for natural gas, the groups note, also could be incorporated into the new efficiency agency. This would enhance the state's ability to increase program participation by creating a "one-stop shop" for consumer information on electric, water and gas efficiency programs.
The groups urged citizens and businesses to contact their state representatives, who convene again in January, to call for an independent efficiency agency.
Over the last few weeks, many people have asked me whether there was something that the Texas Railroad Commission could have done that might have affected, or prevented, the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill catastrophe. The short answer is no, but there are important lessons to be learned from the tragedy that has unfolded.
The Texas Railroad Commission regulates oil and gas operations in our state. This responsibility is one of the most demanding in state government. Texas leads the nation in production (and consumption) of both oil and natural gas. Texas operators drill more wells each year, and Texas has more miles of pipeline, than any other state in the nation. In fact, no other state is even close to our statistics. But, this volume of activity requires that we have vigilant, active Commissioners who are knowledgeable about the industry and who make Commission service their full-time jobs.
Technology, best practices, and challenges accompanying exploration and production evolve constantly. As it becomes more and more evident that human error can result in serious consequences, especially in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Texans deserve Commissioners who focus on keeping state regulations and rules up to date to meet all safety and environmental concerns. Having grown up in the industry, I know for a fact that safety and environmental stewardship are top priorities and that the Texas Railroad Commission should lead the way in protecting our citizens and the environment, while helping the industry produce affordable, abundant Texas resources.
I want to be your next Railroad Commissioner. I've worked in the field and represented individuals and companies on all sides of disputes in the oil and gas industry. I'll bring the Texas Railroad Commission into the 21st Century in a workable and transparent manner. But I need your help to get me there. If you want a Commissioner who will protect Texans and help the oil and gas industry produce affordable resources, join our campaign today.
Jeff Weems is seeking the Democratic nomination for Railroad Commissioner to take on Republican incumbent Victor Carrillo (the only current member of the RR Commission not seating to replace Sen. Hutchison in a nonexistent U.S. Senate special election). Today, he released some straightforward plans which if enacted, would help to clean up the campaign finance laws surrounding the commissioners.
Weems's plan would eliminate payments to incumbent Commissioners when they are not running for election, require incumbent Commissioners to resign before running for other offices, and restrict the use of campaign contributions for funding travel not related to Commission business or election activities. Weems proposes to limit the dates that Commissioners may accept contributions to the period from July 1 in the year before the election year to two months after the general election.
Further, Weems proposes an outright ban on incumbent Commissioners from seeking campaign contributions for other political offices, effectively requiring them to resign before running for other positions, something that is highlighted by Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams.
For whatever reason, Michael Williams didn't show up at a Dallas Morning News editorial board meeting scheduled with challenger Mark Thompson on Tuesday, September 8. Mark Thompson did.
The invitation to both candidates for Texas Railroad Commissioner on the ballot in 2008 was (so far) the only scheduled event featuring both the Democrat and Republican in the same room before voters decide Nov. 4. It would have been the closest thing to a face-to-face debate this race has seen.
The editors said Williams had confirmed for the meeting. "They were surprised he wasn't there," Thompson said.
Mark Thompson has also issued a challenge to Michael Williams to a public debate. While it's unlikely that he will accept nor would one be televised, I do think having a public brawl at a gas station would be worthy of coverage. (For those of you still don't know, the Railroad Commission has little to do with railroads but instead, regulates the oil and gas industry.)
Acknowledging it will be a difficult, uphill battle to defeat his well-funded, well-connected opponent, Democrat for Texas Railroad Commissioner Mark Thompson announced the opening of his statewide campaign headquarters today.
Thompson's campaign will base its operations in Texas from 96 Red River, in the heart of Downtown Austin -- near the Austin Convention Center.
That's right around the corner from the 2006 Travis County Democratic Coordinated Campaign for those that remember, next to the convention center.
A little more about his bio and the race.
Thompson, originally from Hamilton, Texas and now based out of Garland, Texas, began his campaign after a series of deadly home explosions in North Texas linked to faulty natural gas couplings -- couplings that should have been replaced long ago by the industry at the behest of the Republican-run Railroad Commission. But it seems the Commission is more interested in coddling oil & gas companies than protecting the people of Texas.
Michael Williams has had plenty of time to act on his promise to do something about the faulty 'Poly 1' pipe that attaches many Texas homes to the natural gas infrastructure. Williams promised to do something after a deadly explosion in Garland in 2000. But people are still dying in these coupling-caused explosions -- including disasters in Wylie and Cleburne in the last few years.