The 2014 race for the Texas Railroad Commission now includes a Democrat.
Late Thursday, Steve Brown, the former chairman of the Fort Bend County Democrats, announced his candidacy to join the three-member Railroad Commission, the powerful agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, pipelines and natural gas utilities. He is vying for the seat now held by Barry Smitherman, who is running for Texas attorney general.
Brown said that, if elected, he would look for ways to keep Texas’ oil and gas sector growing while managing its less desirable impacts. “It’s important that we do all that we can to continue the abundant growth of our energy industry, as it is the engine of our state’s economy,” he said in a statement. “It’s equally important that this agency has the resources to quickly respond to everyday Texans’ concerns about safety, private property rights, and the environment.”
According to his Facebook page, Brown has worked on campaigns and in legislative offices of several public officials, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Houston; state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston; and former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.
Brown said he wants to transform the commission into a “functional, twenty-first century state agency,” likely alluding to the agency’s decades-old computer and software systems that have strained its capabilities. The Legislature recently gave the agency permission to use millions of dollars in fees to begin an upgrade.
No other Democrats have entered the race. Brown, if emerges from the primary, will face an uphill battle in the general election. The commission hasn’t housed a Democrat in 19 years.
The Republican field is crowded, with six candidates.
The election comes as technological advances, such as the use of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, have triggered an oil and gas bonanza at levels Texas hasn’t seen in 30 years, leading some observers to consider the agency increasingly important. But it is also an unsettled time for the commission, which narrowly avoided complete reorganization last session.