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Incumbent Wayne Christian, chair of the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas in the state, is headed for a Republican primary runoff election against Sarah Stogner, an oil and gas attorney who posted a campaign ad of herself mostly naked atop an oil pump jack.
The crowded primary race for a seat on the Railroad Commission was too close to call late Tuesday night, but by Wednesday morning, 98.6% of the votes had been counted and Christian had secured 47.1% of the votes, falling short of the 50% needed to win the election outright. Stogner received 15.2% of the vote.
Christian and Stogner will face each other in a runoff election May 24. The winner will face Democrat Luke Warford, a former top staffer for the Texas Democratic Party, in the November general election. Warford is the only Democratic candidate.
"The choice in May couldn't be clearer: a pro-oil and gas businessman endorsed by virtually every conservative watchdog group and industry trade association, or a liberal lawyer that will increase regulations on the oil and gas industry and embarrass the Republican Party with her pro-choice and anti-Second Amendment positions," Travis McCormick, Christian's campaign spokesman, told The Texas Tribune on Wednesday.
"We need someone with oilfield experience overseeing the industry who isn’t bought and paid for," Stogner told the Tribune. "I love this industry and Texans deserve better than Wayne’s empty sound bites."
The Railroad Commission, the oldest state regulatory agency, employs more than 800 people and has a budget of $144 million this year. The agency is governed by three board members elected statewide who serve staggered, six-year terms. Only one seat is up for election in 2022.
The campaign for Railroad Commission typically doesn’t attract as much attention as other races, but this year was different.
Christian faced corruption allegations from some of his opponents after he voted — against the recommendation of Railroad Commission staff — to approve a permit for an oil field waste dump facility, then days later accepted a $100,000 campaign donation from the company that received the permit.
Another candidate, Marvin “Sarge” Summers, died in early February on the campaign trail when his vehicle collided with a tanker truck in Midland.
The agency’s regulatory power includes overseeing the natural gas system, a crucial element of the Texas power grid that failed last year during a winter freeze, leaving millions of people without power for days.
Stogner and Christian’s other opponents in the race — Dawayne Tipton, a former oil field roughneck who has worked various oil sector jobs including offshore drilling, and Tom Slocum Jr., an engineering consultant from the Houston area — all criticized Christian and the Railroad Commission for not being proactive before and during last year’s deadly winter freeze. They also criticized his response to the freeze.
While Christian did not win the race outright, he avoided a primary upset like the one in March 2020, when his colleague, former Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton, reelection in the Republican primary after raising $2.2 million. Sitton’s opponent, now-Commissioner Jim Wright, raised less than $13,000.
Christian faces an unusual opponent in the runoff election. Stogner did not accept campaign contributions and attracted much of the attention she has received after her seminude stunt.
The state established the Railroad Commission in 1891 to prevent monopolies in the oil industry. Eventually, the Legislature added oil and gas drilling permits, surface mining, natural gas utilities, and oil and gas pipelines to the agency’s purview while moving regulation of railroads to the Texas Department of Transportation in 2005. The Railroad Commission also helps ensure that companies follow state and federal rules on safety and pollution.