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Rookie Candidate Meets Big State, Crowded Ballot

In his first run for public office, Malachi Boyuls encountered a big state, a crowded ballot and some difficulty with names — both his own and that of the office he sought.

Malachi Boyuls speaks during the Regulating Energy panel at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sep. 28, 2013.

Malachi Boyuls has a good résumé, speaks well and turns out to be, generally speaking, the sort of political candidate who makes his mother proud.

He was stomped in this year’s Republican primary for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission, finishing last among four candidates, with 10 percent of the vote.

Even so, Boyuls ended his first foray into electoral politics with no regrets, calling it “a great experience.” He is not planning another run for office, but he is also not ruling out the possibility. He came out of the experience — traveling, fundraising, speaking, eating on the run — sounding surprisingly upbeat.

His observations about the statewide race included one that is common to almost everyone who has ever run here.

“Just the scale of running a statewide race in Texas,” Boyuls said, “you can kind of appreciate that and know that intellectually, but to understand what it actually means is striking.”

The large number of candidates was the biggest problem, Boyuls said.

“What I failed to assess was what this election cycle was going to look like,” he said. “With so many people, so many offices up for grabs, how busy it would be, how many people were jockeying for attention, not only from voters, but also from the news media.”

In addition to the four Railroad Commission candidates, four Republicans ran for governor, and four more for lieutenant governor. Three Republicans sought the nomination for attorney general. Four made the comptroller’s race. The 15 statewide contests for federal, executive and judicial positions on the Republican primary ballot attracted 48 candidates. Many of those were open seats, increasing the competition and raising the level of difficulty for a candidate trying to make his name.

Boyuls is a former regulatory lawyer now in the investment business in Dallas. He has raised money for other candidates and is a business associate of George P. Bush, a nephew of former President George W. Bush and the Republican nominee for land commissioner. In spite of that experience, Boyuls was not expecting some of what he encountered.

“The worst part about the race was the politics, which is a little ironic,” he said. “There are a lot of voters who are skeptical about politicians, whether you are new in office or have been in office for a long time.”

To navigate those waters as somebody without a record to look at, and to convince voters that you meet whatever criteria is important to them, was difficult.

“You can do that by saying all the right things,” Boyuls said. “Every politician knows what to say. They know the buzzwords, and they know how to talk about conservatism to the grassroots Republican voters. It’s surprising to me that some people don’t see through that. There are certain things that people latch onto, for whatever reason, that completely fixes those people to a particular candidate or campaign, and that’s it. The decision is over.”

Boyuls has an unusual name for a political candidate. One of his opponents — the one who finished first, in fact — was Wayne Christian. The front-runner, a former state representative, has some organization around the state and ran a decent campaign, but also has a name that jumps right off the ballot. In an election in which many voters didn’t know much about all of the candidates, being named Malachi Boyuls might well have been a handicap. With more money, it might have been golden.

“I think there is a tipping point that we could have reached where my name would have gone from a disadvantage to a distinct advantage,” Boyuls said. With more advertising to make it more familiar, that initially odd-sounding name would have been recognizable on a crowded ballot.

Perhaps that would have been optimistic, but hey, similar logic worked for Barack Obama.

In spite of its name, the Railroad Commission is the state’s primary regulator of the oil and gas business. Boyuls said many voters had a pretty good understanding of that, wanting to talk about issues like energy and property rights. He notes, however, that many voters do not know what the agency really does, in part because of its name.

“I had some long conversations with people about trains,” he said.

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Politics 2014 elections Texas Railroad Commission