Former Texas Rep. Lon Burnam went into Tuesday’s Democratic primary for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission with a litany of high-profile endorsements — from top party officials, watchdog groups and six major Texas newspapers.
But the longtime Fort Worth lawmaker will exit the race empty-handed, failing to advance to a runoff that will feature two candidates who spent less money and have never held public office.
His loss illustrates how unpredictable a down-ballot race can be, particularly for the perennially misunderstood office of railroad commissioner — an oil and gas regulator that has nothing to do with trains.
Grady Yarbrough, a former schoolteacher from San Antonio, will advance to a runoff against Cody Garrett, a former party campaign director and journalist from the Austin area. The winner of that runoff will face the winner of the GOP primary: either real estate mogul Gary Gates or former state Rep. Wayne Christian.
A Democrat hasn’t sat on the three-member commission in more than two decades.
Burnam represented House District 90 from 1997 to 2014, where he solidified relationships with state environmental and consumer groups — those engaged in Railroad Commission issues — by advocating for more scrutiny of the petroleum industry.
His endorsements included Wendy Davis, the party’s 2014 candidate for governor; former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the party’s last nominee for lieutenant governor; and two sitting congressmen — U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett, of Austin, and Marc Veasey, of Fort Worth.
But Burnam — who campaigned as the “progressive voice” for the commission — finished last in the three-way race, drawing just 25 percent of the vote with 80 percent of precincts reporting.
Burnam was not available to comment early Wednesday morning. But Lee Henderson, his campaign manager, said the former lawmaker "has for decades, and continues to be, the true representative of our progressive Democratic values in Texas."
Yarbrough, who does not appear to have a campaign website, took 40 percent of the vote. Garrett earned 35 percent.
Neither man has held public office, though Yarbrough ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2012.
Railroad Commission insiders have complained and joked for years about how little everyday Texans know about the curiously named agency or the candidates vying to run it.
Burnam was among those who advocated changing its name to the Texas Energy Commission.