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Mark Miller on Primary Race for Railroad Commission

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In a recent blog posted by the League of Independent Voters of Texas, a non-partisan non-profit organization founded in 2013 upon whose Advisory Committee I serve, I discussed voter choices for Texas Railroad Commissioner (TRRC) for 2020. Among other things, I pointed out the importance of this state agency with a misleading name that regulates Texas’s important oil and gas industry – but not its railroads!

Four political parties have ballot access for the general election this year. It is possible that there are one or more candidates who could be planning independent runs. There may also be new parties planning to petition for ballot access. However, the lack of any public information to date suggests there will be neither on the November ballot.

Texas law stipulates that in the runup to the general election, voters may – if they so choose – do one and only one of the following:

  • Vote in the Republican Party primary on Mar 3 and, if necessary, the runoff May 26.
  • Vote in the Democratic Party primary on Mar 3 and, if necessary, the runoff May 26.
  • Be a delegate to the Libertarian Party conventions Mar 10, Mar 14, and Apr 18-19.
  • Be a delegate to the Green Party conventions Mar 10, Mar 14, and Apr 18-19.
  • Sign a nominating petition for another political party to be on the 2020 ballot.
  • Sign a nominating petition for an independent candidate to be on the 2020 ballot.

The vast majority of voters will undoubtedly choose to participate in one of the two major party primaries. Given recent history, one of the two major party nominees will be our next sitting Railroad Commissioner. This is a competitive election between and internal to the major parties. That’s good for us all. Accordingly, I was asked to give my recommendations to Independent Texans, a political action committee founded in 2001 that rarely endorses any candidates in the primaries.

Given my predilection for alternatives to the two major parties, I have to admit to a certain reluctance to weigh in on Texas’ primary elections. However, I understand why some voters might appreciate my thoughts on the primaries, based on my oil and gas expertise and the fact that I ran for a seat on the TRRC in both 2014 and 2016. In 2016 I even wrote a book about the Railroad Commission and made news by receiving all of the major newspaper endorsements that year, despite running as a Libertarian!

Here’s what I recommend for voters in the major party primaries.

For Republican Primary Voters:

The Republican primary offers the clearest choice for Republican voters. Commissioner Sitton is running for re-election and has only one opponent, a relatively unknown rancher and energy services businessman.

Though there are many positions taken by Sitton that I have disagreed with, I have to admit that he has brought a welcome engineer’s (BSME Texas A&M U.) mentality to Commission deliberations. Even though the issues facing the Railroad Commission are highly technical in nature, in its entire history only one other Commissioner had an engineering background – Bill Murray (MSPE U. of Texas at Austin) 1947-63.

Sitton has shown an engineer’s predisposition for “following the rules”, has been a voice for transparency, has been willing to openly disagree with the other two Commissioners, and favors changing the name of the agency.

For Democratic Primary Voters:

There are four candidates running in the Democratic primary, three of whom are practicing attorneys. Democratic voters will want to weigh their choice carefully, given that all four candidates have strengths that could be brought to the position.

For reasons outlined in my League of Independent Voters blog, I recommend that Democratic voters given serious consideration to voting for Chrysta Castañeda, an oil and gas attorney from Dallas. In addition to her law degree (JD SMU), Ms. Castañeda also has an engineering degree (BSIE Kansas State U.). Ms. Castañeda would seem to bring the most relevant background to the Commission and be in the best position to provide reasonable alternatives to the two sitting Republican Commissioners. Like Sitton, she believes the agency’s name should be changed to reflect its actual duties.

Sitton and Castañeda were both endorsed by the San Antonio Express-News and the Dallas Morning News.

Note that this missive is posted on the Independent Texans blog, not LIV. As a non-partisan membership association for independent and non-aligned voters, LIV does not endorse candidates. It is my understanding that Independent Texans is not endorsing in this primary, but does reserve the right to do so in the November general election. I thank Independent Texans providing me with this avenue to express my opinions.

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