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Endorsement watch: A Libertarian moment

The Chron thinks outside the box in endorsing for the Railroad Commission.

Mark Miller

Mark Miller

Our editorial board interviews scores of candidates for political office every election year, but seldom do we find ourselves wholeheartedly endorsing a nominee from the Libertarian Party. Then again, seldom have we met a Libertarian candidate like Mark Miller.

Ask this man anything at all about the Railroad Commission of Texas and he’ll give you a straight, smart answer informed not only by decades of working in the industry and teaching petrochemical engineering at the University of Texas, but also by a mastery of the issues facing the energy business and the state body that regulates it. He’s an affable retired oil and gas man with a doctorate from Stanford University who’s so interested in this agency he literally wrote a book on the railroad commission.

With impressive clarity and authority, Miller offers well-informed opinions on a litany of arcane issues involving the energy industry: why the Texas Legislature needs to resolve the conflict between the owners of surface rights and mineral rights, why the state should dramatically reduce the number of permits for flaring natural gas, why Texas needs to figure out how to plug oil wells left unplugged by companies that go bankrupt. This guy clearly knows what he’s talking about.

By comparison, none of the other candidates for this office have actually worked in the industry they propose to help oversee. Wayne Christian, the Republican nominee, earned a troublesome reputation as a combative bomb-thrower in the state Legislature; he helped craft a shamefully self-serving amendment exempting his own Bolivar Peninsula home from the Texas Open Beaches Act, and Texas Monthly twice rated him one of the state’s worst lawmakers. Grady Yarbrough, the Democratic nominee, is a retired school teacher whose background seems better suited to an education post. Martina Salinas, the Green Party nominee, is an earnest construction inspector from the Fort Worth area who, again, never worked in the energy business.

I don’t have any particular quarrel with the recommendation. Experience is a somewhat overrated qualification for the RRC, given that its Commissioners (those with industry experience and those without it) tend to be rubber stamps for the industry they purportedly regulate anyway. Certainly, Wayne Christian will do whatever his overlords tell him to do, so in that sense it doesn’t matter whether or not he understands anything about what he’s doing. Maybe Grady Yarbrough will take advice from other sources, who knows. At least he’ll have to be more visible if he somehow gets elected.

Endorsement aside – it would not shock me if Miller collects more than one such recommendation, given the other choices – the more interesting question is whether Miller can break the five percent barrier in this race. Libertarians and Greens have relied in recent years on statewide races in which there was no Democrat running to place a candidate who can top that mark and thus guarantee ballot access for all statewide races for their team. This year, those tricky Democrats actually ran candidates for all statewide offices, meaning the Ls and the Gs are going to have to do this the hard way if they want to be on the statewide ballot in 2020. (The hard way involves collecting a sufficient number of petition signatures, possibly with a little help from friends of convenience.) The question I want to answer is: Have any Libertarian or Green Party statewide candidates cracked the five percent mark in a statewide race that featured both an R and a D in recent years?

We go to the Secretary of State election returns for that. Here are the high statewide scorers for the Ls and the Gs in such races in Presidential years:


Year    Candidate     Party       Race    Pct
=============================================
2012      L Stott       Lib        CCA  3.26%
2012    C Kennedy       Grn        RRC  1.99%

2008      D Floyd       Lib        RRC  3.52%

2004     A Garcia       Lib        RRC  3.60%

2000     M Ruwart       Lib     Senate  1.16%
2000      R Nader       Grn  President  2.15%

(Note: There were no statewide Green candidates in 2004 or 2008.) Doesn’t look too promising. How about in the non-Presidential years?


Year    Candidate     Party       Race    Pct
=============================================
2014    M Bennett       Lib        CCA  3.61%
2014    M Salinas       Grn        RRC  2.03%

2010  J Armstrong       Lib     Sup Ct  4.04%
2010   A Browning       Grn        RRC  1.49%

2006      J Baker       Lib     Lt Gov  4.36%

2002  B Hernandez       Lib  Land Comm  4.12%
2002  O Jefferson       Grn        CCA  1.74%

(Note: There were no statewide Green candidates in 2006.) Not much better. Note that total turnout is a factor – Jack Armstrong (195K) received more votes than Judy Baker (188K) or Barbara Hernandez (180K), but he was running in a much higher turnout environment, so his percentage was lower. By the way, Mark Miller and Martina Salinas were both candidates for the RRC in 2014 as well; Miller received 3.15% of the vote, against R and D candidates who were much better qualified than the ones running this year. Make of that what you will. To get back to my original question, I’d say both Ls and Gs will be relying on their Presidential candidate for their best chance to crack the five percent mark. I’d give Gary Johnson a decent shot at it, but Jill Stein? I figure if Ralph Nader couldn’t get halfway there in 2000, Stein is unlikely to be the one. There’s always the petitions.

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7 Comments

  1. PDiddie says:

    Just never fails to surprise me that a Green Party that gets so few votes in Texas can engender so much fear, loathing, and contempt from partisan Democrats.

  2. voter_worker says:

    The thing I like most about Gs and Ls is that they don’t take kindly to overlords and rarely convey the impression of being lapdogs for entrenched special interests. Thanks for pointing out this endorsement for Mr. Miller.

  3. Miller’s better than Christian or Yarborough, but the RRC is about more than either he or the Chron make it out to be, and, especially if we ever get a federal government taking climate change seriously, the RRC will need people with environmental cojones at the helm.

  4. joe says:

    @voter_worker the GP gets on the ballot by working with Republicans. The LP this year coordinated with Republicans to not run a spoiler candidate in potential swing districts. There is no LP candidate in HDs 23, 43, 54, 78, 102, 105, 107, 113, 116, 117, or 144. They’re all willing to compromise their values for political expediency.

  5. dbcsez says:

    To answer a question raised in this post: No Green or Libertarian running in a statewide race in Texas has cracked 5% against candidates from both major parties. I believe that holds true even in local races, at least for the Greens since we started running candidates in 2000. Martina Salinas is our Texas Green record-holder for four-way races, with that 2.03% polling in 2014.

    Since Kuff brought up the fact that this year the Democrats have candidates in every statewide race, it’s also worth noting that this will be the first year since 2002 that the D’s have done so. Interpret that as you wish, but to me it speaks volumes about how broken the Democratic Party is in this state.

    To refute joe’s comment: Let’s be clear about this. In 2010, the Green Party of Texas received an in-kind contribution for its ballot access petition drive, from a group that did not reveal any partisan affiliation. The fact that some of that group’s donors were Republicans was revealed only after paid petitioners collected the required number of signatures. The lawsuit brought by the Democratic Party of Texas was dropped, but it left the Greens with a huge legal bill. http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/politics/article/Green-party-to-stay-on-ballot-778676.php

    Texas Democrats have a long, anti-democratic history of bullying third parties, especially on their left flank. In the 1970s, when the Tory Democrats were still large and in charge, they imposed ballot access laws (among other tactics) that squashed La Raza Unida, a party that posed a real threat to Democratic hegemony. Now, when they can’t win statewide, they work to stunt the growth of the Greens, even though in some Texas counties the Greens are the only organized opposition because the Democrats have given up.

    The thought of Rick Perry perceiving Bill White as a threat to win the 2010 gubernatorial election is laughable at best, especially in hindsight. Perry didn’t show up for the debates and still won by a 55-42 margin, 631,000 votes. In this state, no Democratic candidates since 2010 have lost any races by fewer votes than their Green and Libertarian opponents combined have received. http://elections.sos.state.tx.us/elchist154_state.htm

  6. dbcsez says:

    Oops, a correction to my first paragraph above: A Libertarian candidate took 6.2% against a Republican incumbent and a Democratic challenger in 2014. https://www.texastribune.org/2014/05/07/analysis-minor-parties-still-matter-even-if-they-l/

  7. dbcsez says:

    Argh, now that I have reread the Texas Tribune article, I have to correct my correction.

    It happened in 2012, not 2014.

    The Republican, Tony Dale was not an incumbent. House District 136 was moved from Harris County to Williamson County after the 2010 census.