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Incumbent Texas Railroad Commission member Wayne Christian defeated oil and gas lawyer Sarah Stogner Tuesday in the Republican runoff election for a seat leading the state agency that regulates the massive oil and gas industry.
Decision Desk HQ called the runoff race for Christian, who failed to receive more than half of his party’s support in the March GOP primary, Tuesday evening.
Christian will face Democrat Luke Warford in the general election in November, where Christian will be the overwhelming favorite, as no Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994. The winner in November will serve a six-year term, the longest term of any statewide elected position.
The Texas 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 this year.
"It's been the honor of my life to serve as our state’s 50th Railroad Commissioner," Christian tweeted Tuesday night. "I'm thankful to @TexasGOP for re-nominating me for this vital office. I look forward to continue fighting for cheap, plentiful, reliable energy, as we stand up to the Biden’s radical liberal agenda."
"It’s a marathon not a sprint," Stogner tweeted. "Thank you to the tribe. See y’all at convention. Let’s get the name changed," alluding to the push to change the name of the Railroad Commission.
The Republican primary win for Christian was not easy. More than half of Republican voters in March voted to not rehire Christian for another term, and he faced consistent corruption allegations from Stogner 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.
Christian repeatedly denied the allegations and said there have not been any ethics complaints filed against him.
Political contributions from the oil and gas industry, which the Railroad Commission is tasked to regulate, fueled Christian’s campaign. He received donations of $10,000 or more from affiliates of Energy Transfer, Marathon Oil Company and Pioneer Natural Resources. As of May 16, Christian’s campaign spent $658,000, according to campaign finance reports.
Christian’s broad financial support from the oil and gas industry dwarfed Stogner’s fundraising; she did not accept political contributions. However, a West Texas rancher who has fought with the Railroad Commission over abandoned oil wells on her property poured $2 million into TV advertisements supporting Stogner’s campaign during the race’s final stretch.
Stogner drew outsized attention to the race in February when she released a campaign video of herself nearly naked atop an oil pumpjack. Despite Stogner trying to lean on her own oil and gas experience and criticizing Christian for not having worked in the industry, Christian struck back by calling Stogner a fake Republican who wants to overregulate oil and gas.
Christian also criticized Stogner over abortion, critical race theory and the funding of police departments, all issues Republican voters care about but have nothing to do with the Railroad Commission.
Christian’s victory avoids the second election cycle in a row in which an incumbent Railroad Commissioner lost to a Republican primary challenger. In 2020, then-Commissioner Ryan Sitton raised $2.2 million and still lost the primary to Jim Wright, who raised less than $13,000 but has the same name as the late Texas congressman and speaker of the House.
Christian’s win also puts him on the precipice of another six-year term on the Railroad Commission, and energy analysts expect more of the same from Christian as a champion for the oil and gas industry if he wins in November.
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.
Disclosure: Energy Transfer has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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