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Railroad Commission Contest Grows Heated

Also, David Dewhurst goes on the attack, and Ted Cruz announces a big fundraising haul.

Candidates for Texas Railroad Commissioner, Ryan Sitton, left, and Wayne Christian.

The GOP runoff for railroad commissioner between former state Rep. Wayne Christian and Ryan Sitton is heating up with dueling high-profile endorsements and renewed scrutiny of one candidate’s possible conflict of interest.

Sitton told the Tribune in February that he would keep an active stake in his energy consulting firm if he’s elected commissioner. He said, though, that he would step back from daily duties with the firm.

That has drawn criticism from Christian. This week, it drew a skeptical response from House Energy Resources Committee Chairman Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, who said, “It’s a loaded revolver he’s playing roulette with here.”

Sitton on Thursday tried to defuse the controversy by saying he would step down as CEO and put the company, PinnacleAIS, into a blind trust if he’s elected commissioner.

“Our research shows that in exactly zero cases in the last several years would I have been required to recuse myself,” Sitton said in a statement. “However, due to the Obama-like tactics employed by my opponent, I feel the need to remove any questions about my motives.”

Meanwhile, Sitton this week announced an endorsement from Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman, the man whom Sitton is running to replace. Christian responded a couple of days later with the release of a list of 16 state representatives and a state senator — Donna Campbell of New Braunfels — who are backing Christian for railroad commissioner.

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Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst delivered his first attack ad of the runoff campaign against Dan Patrick in an attempt to shake up a dynamic that has tipped in favor of the challenger.

The ad, which dropped the day after Patrick’s high-profile debate with Julián Castro on immigration, criticized Patrick for not paying debts forgiven in bankruptcy and for changing his name from Danny Goeb.

The ad drew a sharp rebuke from the Patrick campaign. In a statement, the campaign accused Dewhurst of “polluting the airwaves, spewing raw sewage, and personally attacking Dan Patrick.”

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In campaign contribution news, Attorney General Greg Abbott announced on Thursday that he would start taking donations by Bitcoin. Because the virtual currency is not treated as legal money, the Abbott campaign will treat those donations as in-kind.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, continues to spur speculation that he plans to run for president in 2016. The freshman senator reported raising close to $900,000 in the first quarter of 2014 and now has a bit more than $2 million banked.

For what purpose? We will presumably soon find out.

A Politico article did point out that his fundraising is down from a peak reached during the government shutdown last year, signaling perhaps that his identification with that political issue might have driven many to write checks to him.

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