Christi Craddick, daughter of former House speaker and current state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, announced this summer that she'll run for the seat on the Texas Railroad Commission now occupied by Elizabeth Ames Jones. Jones is running for U.S. Senate and not for another term on the commission, but Craddick has opposition. State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and Houston attorney Roland Sledge are in the race, and Comal County Commissioner Gregory Parker has all but declared. In our interview, Craddick talked about why she wants to run, whether her dad's politics will get in the way, and why the oil and gas industry needs someone like her as a regulator. An edited transcript and some video clips from the interview follow.
Texas Tribune: Why are you doing this?
Christi Craddick: I watched us go through Sunset this past year, and this is a great agency and it's a great industry, and I decided that we needed to have a strong commissioner who could speak out for us. I think it's important that this agency be strong ... as far as making sure we're implementing regulations. And to me, if we aren't strong, then we've got the EPA in the middle of our business, which is what's happened a little bit. But it's a good agency. They've got good people working over there and I'm excited to do that because of that.
TT: Have you wanted to do this for a long time?
Craddick: It's the first time I really considered it. I had someone approach me about two or three years ago about running for office, and I wasn't there yet. It wasn't the right time for me, and it wasn't the right office. This is the first time I've seriously thought about it. And I'm serious because I really think we need somebody in this job who's going to be there. I think it's that important.
TT: What was it about Sunset that prompted you?
Craddick: A couple of commissioners that hadn't been paying attention to their business a little bit, which was concerning. I think you need to treat this like a full-time job, and they hadn't been doing that. I think you've got a good agency, though, some good staff that have been doing a good job. I think you've always got some efficiencies and some ways to improve. That's important at this point.
TT: What were the things not being done that you think ought to be done?
Craddick: One, they'd gotten behind, at that point, in permitting. Their technology is behind the ball. Nothing so, so major that it's not fixable, but more, it's just paying attention and being an advocate for their agency. I just think that they weren't doing as good a job for that as they needed to.
TT: You know more about politics than most first-time candidates.
Craddick: A little.
TT: Tell me about that perspective. Did that prompt you to get in or make you hesitate?
Craddick: I had to think about it for a while. It wasn't like I was driven to run for office, actually. It was more an interest in this particular agency and this particular industry that drove me into it, because I think that I can make a difference. It's different being a candidate than being in the back room, I guess, and that part has been a transition. But I've enjoyed meeting people, and I'm having a good time doing it. There are a lot of nice people out in the state.
TT: You're family has been in and around the oil industry. What about conflicts of interest?
Craddick: No. 1, I've never had — nor has my father, since we're talking about family — we've never had any issues in front of the Railroad Commission ourselves, with anything that he or I are involved in. I think it's important that somebody who understands this industry is involved at the commission. In fact, the feedback I'm getting from within the industry and out, they want a commissioner who understands what they're talking about when they're having a conversation with you. As far as conflicts, I look at Barry Williamson, Elizabeth Ames Jones, their families were in the industry and they were able to do a good job and look at it from a good perspective and I think that's what I'll do, too. I don't think that's a problem.
TT: George Bush had this great line that if you run for office and your father was in office, that you get half his friends and all of his enemies. Your dad's been in Texas politics for a long time; does that help you or hurt you and does it change how you'll run?
Craddick: I think it helps me, don't think it hurts me at all. He has a great record and I'm proud of him, and he's helping me, and he's proud of me. You know, as a family, we had to decide if it was great for us or not, and they're all supportive. His record is great and I'm proud of what he's done, so I'm embracing what he's done.
TT: Should the Railroad Commission be a stand-alone agency, or does it make sense to combine it in some way with the Public Utility Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality?
Craddick: There is, but at the same time, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I think the industry is doing a really good job. This commission [is doing] a good job. And one of the things that the Railroad Commission does best is move quickly if necessary, whereas the PUC and the TCEQ, in my opinion, often don't move as quickly. If you've got a contested hearing, it could take them six months. If you've got something major at the Railroad Commission, you can have it done in six weeks if it needs to be moved that fast. So I think it's important to keep the agency separate.
I think each agency has its own role. I think it's important for industry and for those people out in the public to have an agency specifically that is oil and gas related. There's too much going on to stick it over at the TCEQ and the PUC just doesn't know our issues as well. That's a big piece of it.
TT: One commissioner? Three commissioners?
Craddick: Three. It's an appellate body, as much as anything, and I think it's important to get at least three to hear your side of the story. Because you may not get along with one. We don't want somebody who's unfriendly to the industry to be running the commission as one. I think three is appropriate.
TT: What's the case for you as a candidate?
Craddick: One, I know the industry, which I think is a big help. Two, I'm not running for anything else. This will be a full-time job for me. I think it's important. And three, there's experience there. I know the issues. I've been around for a while. I've been an attorney, worked oil and gas issues, environmental issues, tax, water. Water is a big deal in this industry right now and in this state. I think I'm the best candidate to be an advocate for this Railroad Commission and for this industry, too.
TT: You've been professionally involved in politics and campaigns. Is that the right background for this job?
Craddick: As an attorney, I look at it a little bit differently, so I think that's where you get the regulator piece, one, and two, the political piece, I think it's helpful, because I know how the process works, I know the legislators to go advocate and talk to them about the budget, what's going on at the agency, where cuts ought to be made, how we do some changes over there. And three, I think then you know how to go out and talk to the general public, talk to them about what your issues are, what's going on. So I think it's a real plus.
TT: Size up the competition.
Craddick: I think we've got good experience. They're all nice guys. We've know each other. We're all friends, and I respect them all. But at the end of the day, I'm going to be there. I've got some different experience than they have, from the outside, and frankly, I think I'm the better candidate and I'm not going to get outworked.
TT: Why would a normal person pay attention to this, and how do you engage them?
Craddick: This is a funny race because you think only the industry gives you money, and everybody gets to vote. To me, it's a combination of getting out so the industry knows who you are, which I know a lot of them anyway, which is a real positive. And then two, working the grassroots. I know a lot of them — not all of them — but you've got to get out every day and talk to them. Whether it's [to] get on the phone or go visit with them and that's the fun part of it, frankly, is go visit with them all. If they get down ballot and remember your name, then that's where you win, and that's the biggest piece of it, is getting your name out.