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Victor Carrillo

David Porter not running for re-election to RRC

Another open seat.

David Porter

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter will not be running for re-election after all.

Thursday’s surprise announcement from Porter, who was first elected in 2010, unleashed a flood of interest from Republicans pondering bids for his seat.

Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, and former state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, all confirmed they are weighing their options. And rumors were swirling around Austin that others might jump in.

[…]

Porter, who formerly ran a Midland accounting firm that catered to oil and gas companies, was elected to the three-member commission in 2010. And he took over as chairman in June.

At the agency (which also regulates mining, pipeline safety and natural gas utilities, but not railroads), Porter launched the Eagle Ford Shale Task Force, a collection of public officials, industry leaders, landowners and environmentalists who discussed issues surrounding oil and gas development in Texas’ drilling country. He also pushed Texas to find new uses for natural gas — particularly as a fuel for automobiles.

Last year, as Denton was preparing to vote on a hydraulic fracturing ban that the Legislature has since outlawed, Porter drew mocking from activists after he and another commissioner claimed — without evidence — that Russians were trying to shape the anti-fracking message in the North Texas town.

In recent weeks, Porter appeared to be gearing up for a major primary battle, sending out press releases blasting “radical environmentalist ideology” related to climate change and speaking of terror threats to power plants and pipelines posed by The Islamic State, or ISIS.

Porter is kind of an accidental Commissioner – he came out of nowhere to knock off then-Commissioner Victor Carrillo in the 2010 GOP primary, which no one saw coming. No great loss when he leaves, though as always the next person in line could be worse. Patterson or Keffer would be okay, the rest probably not. I figure this nomination will be decided in the runoff. It would of course be much better to have a good Democrat in the race, and as of Sunday, we have one:

Former state Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat, said Sunday that he has filed to run for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates oil and gas development.

“I think it’s really important that we have a progressive voice in this Railroad Commission race, and I think it’s very important we end one party rule in this state,” Burnam said.

Burnam represented House District 90 beginning in 1997; he ran for reelection in 2014 but was defeated in the Democratic primary by the current occupant of the seat, state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth.

Burnam would certainly be a fresh voice on the RRC, which isn’t used to having non-industry shills. He’s clearly a longshot to win, but given how crazy things are in the GOP Presidential primary, who knows what could happen. This is the only non-judicial statewide office on the ballot, and according to the Star-Telegram, Burnam will face 2014 Senate candidate Grady Yarbrough in the primary. We know what kind of random results we can get in these low-profile races, so I hope Burnam can raise a few bucks and get his name out. FuelFix has more.

Probably the last thing I’ll write about Jim Hogan

At least, I hope it’s the last thing, because there ain’t much to say.

Jim Hogan

Texas Democrats are not holding their breaths for a win for the office held by Republicans since Perry ousted Jim Hightower in 1992.

Democratic consultant Jason Stanford went so far Wednesday as to say [Jim] Hogan’s candidacy [for Ag Commissioner] is “as good as a forfeit.”

“Sid Miller could probably move to Oklahoma and win this race,” Stanford said. “No one would notice.”

The best thing the Democrats can hope for in the race is for Hogan to continue his strategy without publicly embarrassing the party, said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.

Jones said Hogan’s nomination reflects poorly on party leadership.

“It’s really a sad state of affairs for the Texas Democratic Party when someone is able to be a statewide candidate without actively campaigning at all,” he said.

Yes, it’s embarrassing, but let’s keep some perspective here. Republicans didn’t exactly nominate their best candidates for Ag Commissioner or Attorney General or Railroad Commissioner, either. Let’s also not forget that all the way back in 2010, some dude named David Porter, who campaigned about as much as Jim Hogan did, knocked off two-term incumbent Railroad Commissioner Victor Carillo despite Carillo having huge advantages in campaign finances and name recognition. Hogan’s win is a forehead-slapper, but it’s hardly unprecedented.

The good news is that there’s a fairly simple fix for this. The problem in a nutshell is that when voters are faced with unfamiliar choices, you get random results. We’ve seen this in elections at every level. Your best bet to avoid a random result is for the viable candidates to have the resources to properly introduce themselves to the voters, and by “resources” I of course mean money. Roll the clock back six months or so, have a few big Democratic donors seed the Hugh Fitzsimons campaign with $500K or so for some targeted mail, and I’m willing to bet he makes it to the runoff. For all the crap I’ve given that Trib poll, the one useful thing about it was that it highlighted at the time how unknown all of the Democratic candidates for Senate were. I’m sure that changed dramatically over the next few weeks as David Alameel was plastering his image over the entire Internet. You wouldn’t have needed Fitzsimons to win outright, you just need to ensure he makes it to the runoff. He needed 70,000 votes to pass Kinky, 75,000 to pass Hogan. Surely that was within reach for that kind of money. I’ve said before that if we want to be able to recruit quality candidates for these downballot races in 2018 and however many elections after that until the bench is deep enough to take care of this by itself, we need to be able to reassure them that they’ll have the resources they’ll need to fend off whatever quacks and wannabes file for the same race. Someone in a better position than me to make this happen needs to start thinking about this ASAP.

More redistricting lawsuits filed

And to think, we don’t even have a Congressional plan yet.

A federal lawsuit filed Monday by some Texas House members blasts the use of “inaccurate” 2010 Census data in the remapping of state political jurisdictions.

The lawsuit by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus against Gov. Rick Perry and top lawmakers alleges that the census vastly undercounted Hispanics, especially in the border region. As a result, Latinos will be shortchanged in their representation at the Legislature and the State Board of Education, the lawsuit claims.

Additionally, the lawsuit calls for an end to at-large statewide election of the three Texas Railroad Commission members, replacing that system with voting by single-member places. The lawsuit says that since 1891, only three Hispanics have served as railroad commissioners — none in the past 20 years — but that “a fairly drawn single-member district can result in one district with a majority Latino citizen voting-age population.”

Alleging violations of the federal Voting Rights Act, the lawsuit says census tallies from Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, El Paso, Dallas and Harris counties severely underestimated the Hispanic populations there. Bexar County wasn’t mentioned.

That “none in the past 20 years” statement about Hispanics serving as Railroad Commissioner is clearly wrong – just ask Victor Carrillo – but the overall point is well taken. Along these lines, there was briefly a plan on the TLC District Viewer page for that 3-district RRC plan. It was Plan E 124, submitted by Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, and while it is no longer visible on that page, I received a copy of it from the TLC, which I have posted as a Google doc here. I daresay District 1, which includes El Paso, most of South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, Bexar, and the Democratic parts of Harris (the only subdivided county in the map), could elect a Dem, while the other two would be solidly red. Perhaps this map will be little more than a historical curiosity, but there you have it. NewsTaco has more.

Elsewhere on the redistricting litigation front, State Rep. Harold Dutton says that prisoners should be counted where they came from, not where they’re incarcerated.

Dutton says the state should count prisoners at their last address, not where they are serving their time. He said if the courts agree, Harris County could get 25 seats in the Texas House. Under a House redistricting proposal, the county would only get 24 seats.

Dutton said some rural counties are awarded more population than they deserve using current prisoner population counting methods. Urban counties, meanwhile, should be able to report higher population counts, he said. Dutton said the way the state counts prisoners violates rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

I’ve noted this before. I suppose the only surprise is that it took this long for a lawsuit to be filed. The AusChron has more.

Meet the Statewides: Moody and Weems

Two more candidate videos from the TDP’s “Meet the Statewides” series. First up, Supreme Court candidate Bill Moody:

Moody, a District Court justice in El Paso, was the top performer among Democratic candidates in 2006, getting 45% of the vote while sweeping the newspaper endorsements. He ran for Supreme Court in 2002 as well.

Next is Jeff Weems, candidate for Railroad Commissioner.

Weems, a Houstonian, is running against the no-name Republican that knocked off Victor Carrillo in the GOP primary. He’s got a lot of experience and expertise in the energy industry; if any of that matters, he should win easily. I’ll be very interested to see what his fundraising totals look like in July.

The Commissioners

Here’s a look at how the candidates in the three Commissioner races did across Texas.

– In the Democratic primary for Land Commissioner, Bill Burton won a majority in an astonishing 193 counties; of those, he scored better than 70% in 123, and better than 60% in 161. So why isn’t he the nominee for Land Commish? Only 55 of those counties had as many as 1000 votes cast in them. There were 317,597 votes cast in those 193 counties he won, and 247,923 in the 53 counties carried by Hector Uribe (some counties had no primary votes cast in them). Uribe also had big margins, and they came in such places as Webb, Cameron, Hidalgo, Nueces, El Paso, Bexar, and Travis, all of which he won with 64% or more of the vote. Burton carried Dallas and Harris Counties, where he won 20 of the 25 State Rep districts (Uribe took 134, 136, 143, 145, and 148) thanks in part to endorsements from various African-American groups, and he won his home county of Henderson with 82%, but for the most part he was running up the score in places with few people. That 82% total netted him 566 votes; Uribe’s 86% tally in his home of Zapata County was worth over 2,000 votes. In the big counties he won, Burton’s wins were closer – his combined margin of victory in Dallas and Harris was about 16,500 votes, or about 500 votes fewer than Uribe’s margin in Hidalgo. Uribe’s win wasn’t broad but it was deep, and it was in places the Democratic Party hopes to do well this fall.

– I had no idea where Kinky Friedman’s strongest showings would be. Turned out he did pretty well in South Texas and along the border – his 63% in Webb County was his best performance, and he also took places like Zapata, Jim Wells, Val Verde, Maverick, and Hidalgo. He also had a comfortable win in Collin County, and squeakers in Montgomery, Galveston, Denton, and Tarrant, where he had been endorsed, albeit somewhat casually, by the Star-Telegram. He did not carry the other major counties in which he received endorsements, Dallas and El Paso; perhaps the latter didn’t like the song. He did win his home Kerr County, for a total of 66 all together. Hank Gilbert won 179 counties, including big wins in Travis and Fort Bend, and smaller but solid margins in Williamson, Bexar, and Harris, where he took 20 State Rep districts. He won his home county of Smith with 55%.

– I don’t know what I expected when I looked at the GOP primary for Railroad Commissioner, but it was ugly. Victor Carrillo won a grand total of six counties, four of which had less than 100 votes each in them. They still loved him in his home county of Taylor (that’s Abilene, in case you were wondering), and he collected over 60% of the votes in Webb, but it was all downhill from there. David Porter took 60% or more of the vote in 186 counties. He won by a two to one margin in neighboring Lubbock, and was over 60% in Bexar, McClennan, Denton, and other places too numerous to name. He won 15 of the 25 State Rep districts in Harris County, which he carried with “only” 53% of the vote. You can explain his win over the better-funded incumbent, who ran a competent campaign despite what the spinmeisters would have you believe, however you like. All I can say is that had I not known better, I’d have thought Porter was the incumbent and Carrillo was the unknown challenger.

Vasquez and Carrillo

Newly-unelected Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez makes the same complaint about why he is headed for the unemployment line as Victor Carrillo did.

Carrillo started the ethnic angst with an e-mail to supporters indicating racial bias had cost him re-election. That was followed up by Vasquez’s campaign manager and girlfriend, SuZanne Feather, sending out an e-mail saying there were “many similarities” between Carrillo and Vasquez’s loss on Tuesday to tea party activist Don Sumners. Vasquez joined in during an interview with the Houston Chronicle.

“It is perplexing that someone could basically spend no money whatsoever and mount no campaign and win as handily as he did,” Vasquez said. “The same thing happened in the Victor Carrillo race as well.”

But Vasquez’s predecessor in office, Paul Bettencourt said Vasquez lost because he had issues in his personal life that cost him the support of social conservative organizations.

Consultant Allen Blakemore, speaking for social conservative leader Steve Hotze, said Republicans were upset with Vasquez for settling a voter-registration lawsuit with Democrats and for not being as vocal on property tax increases as Bettencourt. Blakemore said the “final blow” came when social conservative leaders learned Vasquez lives with a woman married to another man.

Vasquez admitted social conservative leaders Hotze and Terry Lowry “probably got him (Sumners) another 10,000 votes and maybe even made the full difference between us.”

“The Republican Party, especially in Harris County, has been, unfortunately, overly controlled and influenced by a small, but vocal group on the religious right, and we need to get back to the core principles of fiscal conservative issues rather than these social issues that are being perpetuated by that small, but vocal, minority,” Vasquez said.

You’re just figuring that out now, Leo? What color is the sky on your planet?

As for the justifications Bettencourt and Blakemore give, I’ll say this much. I had heard about Vasquez’ relationship to Feather, and can say with confidence that it would have come up in the general election had Vasquez been the nominee. I have no idea how well known it was among the people who actually voted in that race – Big Jolly mentions it, while also acknowledging Vasquez’ complaint and noting that “there is still a lot of resentment around the county in the wake of Paul Bettencourt’s sudden resignation and Vasquez’ appointment” – but my suspicion is that it wasn’t particularly well known. Had Don Sumners made it a campaign issue, I expect it would have been news, and there was no such news reported. A Google search of “leo vasquez suzanne feather” yields nothing relevant. Similarly, I can’t really evaluate the claim about Vasquez’s settlement of the HCDP lawsuit. Big Jolly didn’t mention it, and a Google search turns up mostly Democratic links. Maybe more people knew about it than I might think, but if it was a campaign issue and not just something that a handful of connected folks were grumbling about, it was a mighty quiet one.

I don’t doubt that the issues Bettencourt and Blakemore cite affected how some people voted. The question is how many of the 120,000+ people who cast a vote in that race were affected by those particular factors. Unlike David Porter, Don Sumners was at least someone who had been an elected official before, and presumably started out with some kind of base. That in and of itself may have been enough for him to win.

One thing I am sure of is that Vasquez is now officially dead to the Republican establishment. Look at what they’re doing to poor Victor Carrillo:

Republican consultant Ted Delisi said Carrillo spent far less than Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones or Michael Williams did on their re-election campaigns and said Carrillo did little personal campaigning.

“In the end, a bad campaign is just a bad campaign,” Delisi said.

That’s a pretty remarkable piece of disinformation. First, it appears to be comparing Williams’ and Ames Jones’ general election efforts to Carrillo’s primary campaign. I say that in part because Michael Williams had no primary opponent in 2008, so however much money he spent in that race, his renomination was never in doubt. As for Ames Jones, she did have a primary opponent in 2006. Her eight days out report for that race shows that she spent $580,116. Carrillo’s eight days out report, by comparison, had expenditures of $525,666. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t meet my definition of “far less”. Finally, since Porter ran no campaign at all, Delisi is implying that Carrillo’s campaign was not merely inadequate but that it must have actively persuaded people to vote against him. Even by the standards of Republican consultants, that’s a pretty damn brazen thing to say. But it’s the sort of thing they’re going to be saying about you now, Leo. I hope you’re prepared for that.

Carrillo’s message to supporters

Ousted Railroad Commission Chair Victor Carrillo sent a sharply-worded email to his supporters about how he lost his race on Tuesday.

Early polling showed that the typical GOP primary voter has very little info about the position of Railroad Commissioner, what we do, or who my opponent or I were. Given the choice between “Porter” and “Carrillo” — unfortunately, the Hispanic-surname was a serious setback from which I could never recover although I did all in my power to overcome this built-in bias.

I saw it last time but was able to win because the “non-Carrillo” vote was spread among three Anglo GOP primary opponents instead of just one. Also, the political dynamics have changed some since 2004.

Carrillo had three primary opponents in 2004, when he ran for his first full term. He got 49.60%, then easily dispatched runnerup Robert Butler in overtime with 62.77% of the vote. As Leo Vasquez could also attest, this was not a good year to be running in a Republican primary with a Hispanic surname.

Carrillo did not endorse his opponent, David Porter, nor did he urge his followers to support him in November. That’s not too surprising, given that he described Porter as follows:

Porter, an unknown, no-campaign, no-qualification CPA from Midland residing in Giddings filed on the last day that he could file while I was waiting in Abilene to bury my dad.

He has never held any elected office, has no geoscience, industry, or legal experience other than doing tax returns for oil and gas companies.

I’m thinking that might show up on some of Jeff Weems‘ campaign materials. I just hope he can raise the funds to distribute those materials widely enough.

More from this DMN story:

Privately, some Republicans said they felt that Carrillo should have campaigned more. In recent months, Carrillo has endured health problems, and his father died in January.

Carrillo spent more than $600,000 on mailers, radio spots, newspaper ads and other materials, records show. Porter spent nearly $30,000, including $15,000 from his own pocket.

“I wish [Carrillo] had been more aggressive and astute in how his resources were spent. I think that made the difference between winning and losing,” said Ted Delisi, a Republican strategist who helped direct Republican Tony Garza’s campaign for railroad commissioner in 1998.

That sounds like something you’d say after a candidate lost by two points. Carrillo lost by twenty. Other than having a few million dollars at his disposal, I don’t know what he could have done about that. The Trib has more.

Election results: Other statewides

The big story in the other statewide primaries is the loss of Railroad Commission Chair Victor Carillo to a first-time candidate.

David Porter, who moved to Giddings after building a business in Midland, ousted Victor Carrillo, the highest-ranking nonjudge Latino in Texas government, in an election some said was determined by ethnicity.

Carrillo, who was appointed to the panel in 2003 before winning election a year later, had the support of top Republicans and vastly more money, according to campaign filings. Through Feb. 20, Carrillo had $322,601 on hand; Porter had $11,251.

Porter, who said he spent about $50,000 on his campaign, played up his lack of political credentials in his campaign, and he credited his outsider status for the victory. “People are tired with professional politicians, and looking for a change,” he said Tuesday night.

But Carrillo’s camp thought his biggest problem might have been his last name.

“We’ve got the problem of an Anglo surname versus an Hispanic,” said campaign consultant Susan Lilly, who said Carrillo’s campaign had spent at least $600,000. Candidates with any kind of unusual name are at a disadvantage, she said.

Hold that thought, because we’ll be coming back to it when we look at the Harris County results. I had the opportunity to finally meet Jeff Weems last night at the Bill White event. As you might imagine, he was happy with that result. The question is whether the industry support in this race will switch from Carillo to Porter or Weems. Their July finance reports will be a lot more interesting to look at now.

Democrat Linda Chavez-Thompson won without a runoff in the Lite Guv primary; the SOS shows her at 53.10% to Ronnie Earle’s 34.67%. You have to figure there might have been a runoff if Mark Katz had run an actual campaign. Hank Gilbert won what turned out to be a not-too-close race against Kinky Friedman, getting over 52%. Friedman is now a three-time loser, once as an R, once as an I, and now as a D. Turn out the lights, dude. Hector Uribe won a closer-than-I-expected race to be the candidate for Land Commish, winding up with 51.67% after early returns had him trailing. When I went to bed last night, Bill Burton was up on him by about 10,000 votes, but Uribe’s turf in South Texas had largely not reported yet. The Democrats got the slate their best slate.

Finally, there will be a runoff for the Republican nomination for Harriet O’Neill’s open Supreme Court slot, with four candidates finishing within 2000 votes of each other. The leader, former State Rep. Rick Green, is the worst of them.

Green, who represented the Dripping Springs area in the Texas House from 1999 to 2003, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the night’s returns and “real thrilled” about the prospect of a runoff, and that he thought his campaign had “good ground game and a good Internet presence.” The former lawmaker made headlines in 2006 for a public row with his Democratic successor, state Rep. Patrick Rose, whom he allegedly punched and shoved on Election Day. While in the Legislature, Green attracted criticism for using his Capitol office as the setting for a health supplement infomercial for a company and arguing successfully for the parole of a man who had lent $400,000 to his father’s company. He also made Texas Monthly’s list of the 10 worst legislators.

The libertarian-style candidate has earned the endorsements of rightwing celebs Chuck “Walker, Texas Ranger” Norris and the prolific Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of TLC’s 18 Kids & Counting!, as well conservative lawmakers like state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center. Green is also cozy with the Aledo-based organization WallBuilders, a group that wants to close the gap between church and state, and advocates for other causes that preserve America’s “moral, religious and constitutional heritage.”

Yecch. Barring anything strange, Green will apparently face off against Fort Worth District Court Judge Debra Lehrmann, with the winner going up against Jim Sharp in November. In the other Supreme Court primary, the newly-appointed Justice Eva Guzman won easily against Rose Vela.

Jeff Weems

We’ve been hearing plenty about the top of the ticket for Democrats in 2010, but there are still several slots to fill. One of them is the Railroad Commissioner seat held by Victor Carrillo. Via email to Carl Whitmarsh, here’s a name for you:

Jeff Weems is running for the Democratic nomination for Texas Railroad Commissioner in 2010, hopefully earning a chance to square off with Republican incumbent Victor Carrillo.

Jeff is currently the precinct Chair for Precinct 274. He is an oil and gas litigation attorney, representing exploration companies, service companies and landowners. Before becoming an attorney, he worked in the industry for years, first as a laborer on drilling rigs, next as a mud man, then as a landman. He has been an attorney for 19 years. He works with Harrison, Bettis, Staff, McFarland & Weems, a mid-sized Houston litigation firm.

Jeff is running because he knows the energy industry inside and out. He knows that the Railroad Commission can do so much more than it does now. The incumbent Republican commissioners are far too ready to take contributions from companies with matters pending before the commission, even when they are not up for election. Even more importantly, the current commissioners have demonstrated a bias toward the gas utilities when rate cases are heard, which ends up costing the citizens of Texas dearly. In addition, Jeff will balance the desires of the operators seeking to drill and complete wells with the need to protect Texas’ environment (such as in the Barnett Shale).

Won’t surprise me if Dale Henry, who was a candidate in 2006 and again in 2008, runs again. Mark Thompson, who defeated Henry and Art Hall in the 2008 primary for RR Commish, is currently running for Governor. There may be someone else out there as well – who knows, maybe Hall wants to take another crack at it – but at least we have one.

The potential contenders for all statewide offices at this time, as I know of them:

Governor – Tom Schieffer is in, Kinky Friedman and Mark Thompson say they’re in. Kirk Watson and/or Ronnie Earle may decide to join them. Former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger has been mentioned as well, but while everyone I’ve spoken to loves the guy, nobody as yet thinks this is likely.

Lieutenant Governor – Not a whole lot of chatter about this one just yet, but I’ve recently heard that State Sen. Royce West, who has previously expressed some interest in Attorney General, may run for this slot instead. Watson remains a possibility here as well.

Attorney General – Barbara Radnofsky is in. West and Earle are possible. State Rep. Patrick Rose has been in the conversation, but any buzz he’s had has diminished of late. 2006 nominee David Van Os is always a possibility, but the word I’ve heard lately is that he’s not considering it.

Comptroller – Haven’t heard a peep. Susan Combs may become the Kay Bailey Hutchison of the next decade, at least if no one serious ever challenges her.

Ag Commish – 2006 nominee Hank Gilbert is running. He may have company, but as yet I’ve not heard any other names.

Land Commish – I have recently heard the name of a potentially exciting candidate for this slot, but that person has not made a decision and the name was given to me in confidence, so that’s all I can say for now.

So there you have it. Regarding the Comptroller slot, Combs probably is the one person no one serious wants to run against. There’s a danger in that if there is a vacuum, it could get filled by a clown like Fred Head, whose buffoonish presence would be a drag on a ticket that had, say, Watson, West, and Earle/Radnofsky as the headliners. You can’t stop anyone from running – see “Kelly, Gene” for all the evidence of that you’ll need – but you can try to persuade someone with a bit more heft to challenge him in the primary if it comes down to it. A self-funder would be preferred, given the amount of funds that will need to be devoted to other races. Whether one can be found or not is the question.