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A 32-year-old former top staffer for the Texas Democratic Party is running for a spot on the three-person commission regulating the state’s oil and gas industry, hoping to unseat Republican incumbent Wayne Christian with a chief focus on the power grid failure earlier this year.
Luke Warford, the party’s former chief strategy officer, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune that he is running for the Texas Railroad Commission “because I genuinely think this is one of the most important elected offices in the state and because the current people serving on the commission are only looking out for their interests and the interests of their friends, not the interests of Texans.”
“No time was that clearer than during the winter storm,” Warford said, faulting the commission for not doing enough to ensure natural gas companies “weatherize” their facilities, or prepare them for extreme weather.
Christian announced months ago that he would seek a second term in 2022, and Warford is an underdog. The 2020 Democratic nominee for railroad commissioner, Chrysta Castañeda, lost by 9 percentage points, despite getting national money and facing a little-known Republican, Jim Wright, who had unseated an incumbent in the primary.
Warford is undeterred, saying he believes the grid failure “fundamentally changes the calculus” for the race. The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that voters are very dissatisfied with how lawmakers responded to the crisis, with 18% approving and 60% disapproving.
Warford is taking inspiration from the only Democrat to currently hold statewide office in Florida, Nikki Fried, who won the election for agriculture commissioner in 2018 after campaigning heavily on issues surrounding medical marijuana. Warford said her win showed the possibility for Democrats to break through when they run on a “very narrow, very popular issue set.”
Warford has a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and has done consulting in the private sector for energy companies. He said his relatively limited experience is a plus because Texans have “seen for a long time what happens when people from the industry are expected to regulate.”
“It’s clearly not working,” Warford said. “I actually think a real strength of my candidacy is that I’m an outsider.”
So far, no other credible Democratic candidates have emerged to challenge Christian. He is facing a primary challenge from Dwayne Tipton, a longtime oil-and-gas worker from Killeen. Tom Slocum Jr., who hails from a prominent Houston oil family, has appointed a campaign treasurer for the race but has not announced his plans yet.