McLennan County Republican Club president and local attorney Wesley Lloyd works occasional miracles in pulling together programs for the club’s monthly luncheons at Knox Hall. But he outdid himself last month. He got six Republican candidates for Texas Railroad commissioner to show up.
And as sometimes happens at these things, the candidates collectively telegraphed more than they probably meant to. Most of the six used their limited time to convey to local Republicans how they were more conservative than anyone else in the hall, trotting out stock lines about fighting the federal government while offering little insight into an agency that regulates oil and gas in Texas, not railroads.
Typical was former state legislator and once-upon-a-time tea-party favorite Wayne Christian, who stressed “faith, family and freedom” and proclaimed he was the first Republican elected from East Texas since Reconstruction. He boasted that he had made Texas Monthly’s Worst Legislators list “because of my conservative voting record.”
That’s one way of looking at it. Christian has won notoriety for such excesses as helping pass in the Texas Legislature a self-serving amendment neatly exempting his beachfront property from state law banning the construction of residences on public beaches — which brings new meaning to his claim of “standing up for private property rights.”
And there was Weston Martinez, who stressed he was “pro-life, pro-gun and pro-Israel,” that he had stacked up a bunch of tea-party endorsements and that the Environmental Protection Agency should have to ask permission before it crosses the Red River. And Ron Hale, who also dismissed EPA intrusion, any science be damned: “Don’t wait for all the studies. Stop it dead in its tracks.”
The most offbeat was Gary Gates, a Fort Bend cattle rancher and Houston apartment developer who talked about his 13 children — 11 of them adopted — and how all were briefly taken away. I’m not quite sure how his complaints about Child Protective Services fit into the oil and gas industry, though he did liken it to federal overreach.
So it goes this election cycle: Voter, voter, in the mall, who’s the most conservative among us all? And yet, the Texas Railroad Commission more than ever needs wise hands to carefully balance an oil and gas industry that drives our state’s economy and funds our schools and roads against legitimate concerns that some Texans have about everything from hydraulic fracturing, its seismic side effects and possible impact on groundwater, to something as esoteric as making sure that 24-hour drilling operations in West Texas lower their lights in deference to the famous McDonald Observatory.
Blame the candidate rhetoric on a society that readily falls for the “scorecards” of lobbying groups with dubious motives; buys into fact-free claims and charges on the Internet; and subscribes to bumper-sticker answers to complicated problems such as immigration and debt reduction that require nuanced solutions with bipartisan buy-in to make sure such solutions endure. Blame it too on a nasty presidential campaign where decency and honesty are completely out the window. What a chaotic environment in which to campaign, let alone to vote.
For the record, the only candidate who stood out of the Texas Railroad Commission wannabes assembled by Wes last month was Lance Christian, a low-key, 44-year-old geologist who works for the commission. He talked about things like horizontal drilling, injection wells and protecting groundwater. In short, he knew what he was talking about and didn’t feel the need to proclaim himself pro-Israel or pro-gun. But two questions do loom: Does the name Christian hurt him given one of his gaggle of opponents or does it help? And do Texans even care anymore about truly qualified people in office?