The three railroad commissioners made the appointment Tuesday, as first reported by the Quorum Report (and confirmed by a Railroad Commission official). The commission regulates oil and gas, as well as mining activities, in Texas.
The executive director oversees the day-to-day operations of the agency and works to implement the policies established by the commissioners.
Rister, who was raised on a farm near Walburg and still lives in Williamson County, replaces John Tintera, who retired suddenly in March. Polly McDonald, who has directed the pipeline safety division, served as acting director in the interim. Rister will start the job on Oct. 1.
"We believe him to be a very good fit going forward as we head into [legislative] session and work our way through the Sunset process and begin to modernize the Railroad Commission, bringing in new IT and all the issues that were raised by the Sunset Commission," said Barry Smitherman, the commission chairman, referring to the review of the agency that will come up next year in the Legislature. "Milton comes with a vast amount of experience and is well-recommended."
Rister’s resume includes a three-year stint as executive director of the Texas Legislative Council. He also served as deputy director of Republican Clayton Williams’ unsuccessful 1990 run for governor, and in the mid-1990s he was chief of staff to state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. Currently he works in the governor’s office as director of administration, an office that oversees financial services, human resources, IT, support services and compliance and oversight.
“Milton is kind of the quintessential, button-down … guy who’s in politics but is pretty much a professional, straight-ahead, plays-it-by-the-book, kind of guy,” said Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist with HillCo Partners. Miller added that he had “never heard a bad word about him.”
His Twitter account, which has not been used since early 2010, when he made an unsuccessful run for a state House seat in Williamson County, describes him as a “conservative Republican who wants to help other conservative Republicans get elected.”
Controversy arose during his appointment to the Legislative Council in 2006. The Austin American-Statesman dug through records to report that he “never submitted an application for the job to the agency nor did he undergo or had a job interview.”
Rister told the paper that because he had worked closely with two chairmen of the council, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and then-House Speaker Tom Craddick, Republican of Midland, he had essentially “been interviewing with them all my life.”
Some Democrats wrote to Craddick and Dewhurst at the time to protest Rister’s appointment to the nonpartisan Legislative Council.
Asked about whether Rister's background as a political operative was a concern at the Railroad Commission, Smitherman said: "What background I looked at was his work currently in the governor’s office, his work at the Legislative Council, his work for Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, and the skills he used in each of those arenas were the skills that we were looking for."