Warren Chisum Looks Back at a Life in the Lege

State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, in the House chamber on May 13, 2011.
State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, in the House chamber on May 13, 2011.

State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, walked the floor shaking hands and receiving hugs from his colleagues in the waning hours of the 82nd regular session, which — after 22 years in the Texas House — will be his last.

"It's been my lifestyle for 20-plus years," Chisum told the Tribune as the clock wound down on his legislative career. "It's not an easy decision to make, but sometimes it's time to go."

Chisum has seen many legislators come and go, including many who moved on to some very high perches. Gov. George W. Bush used to call him "tailpipe" because of his work on automobile emissions. He fondly recalls walking around Town Lake in Austin with a young representative named Kay Bailey Hutchison, now a U.S. senator who — like Chisum — is now preparing to leave her post. Of U.S. Rep. John Culberson, Chisum says, "Me and him used to fight the battles ourselves. Me and Culberson against the world."

"You build the best relationships here," he said of the Texas House. "You come down here for 140 days with 150 of the best people in the state of Texas. And you usually get to know all 31 senators as well."

When asked about his toughest battle, he mentioned his successful push for a constitutional amendment to restrict marriage in Texas to be between a man and a woman. He said the current session that just ended (which, it turns out, will bleed over into a special session that will delay Chisum's actual departure a bit) has been one of the toughest "by far."

"Nobody likes to not fund schools at a better rate than we did last year," he said. "It's not fun."

The next item on the Panhandle legislator's agenda is a run for railroad commissioner. He says he's eager to hit the campaign trail. "It's going to be a statewide race — a pretty tough race, because it's a valuable position in state government."

He said he made the decision to leave the Legislature around the first of the year, realizing that a lack of growth in his district would almost surely mean that someone would have to step aside to avoid inter-party battles once new boundaries were drawn during redistricting. Sure enough, he was ultimately paired in the same district with another incumbent, Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon.

If he is successful in his bid, Chisum won't be out of state government entirely. "I'm not leaving," he said. I'm not leaving state government, and I'm not running for railroad commissioner so I can run for something else. I'm running so I can be the Texas railroad commissioner."

He says he's looking forward to having a narrower focus in his work on the Railroad Commission. Another difference: no more Sine Die. "It doesn't mean anything in the Railroad Commission," he said. "You've got to change your whole mindset."

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