No Democrat has won statewide office in Texas since 1994, but railroad commissioner candidate Chrysta Castañeda is in striking distance, and her bid could bode well for races throughout the state. A new poll from Global Strategy Group shows a sharp race for Castañeda in her bid against Jim Wright, with her down just six points.
The poll also shows Joe Biden up two points against Donald Trump. In 2016, Trump beat Hillary Clinton by nine points. Democrats are also slightly more motivated to vote in November than their Republican counterparts (79 percent versus 75 percent).
The term railroad commissioner is a misnomer. The agency has nothing to do with the railroad, but it does oversee regulations for the oil and gas industry. It is the state’s oldest agency, with three serving commissioners that serve for six years. Wright beat incumbent Ryan Sitton, who is now wrapping up his first term, in the Republican primary.
Wright is currently ensnared in an ethics drama ever since it was revealed that his own company received 255 violations from the Railroad Commission. DeWitt Recyclables Product was cited fifty times for “unpermitted disposal of oil and gas wastes.” Wright has not offered any indication of divesting himself from his own portfolio if he is elected to the Texas Railroad Commission.
Castañeda was the founding partner of her law firm in Dallas, which focuses on oil and gas litigation. She also has a degree in industrial engineering from Kansas State University.
The poll from GSG notes that Castañeda takes a lead against Wright as voters learn more about the candidates. Wright does enjoy a higher name ID after the Republican primary, and he also shares a name with the former Speaker of the U.S. House from Texas. Following a simulated debate, Castañeda leads Wright 45 percent to 39 percent. The more voters learn about Wright’s background and his massive conflicts of interest, Castañeda expands even further on her lead to ten points.
Clearly, Castañeda has a lot of room to grow in the state. With campaigning around the state essentially halted due to COVID-19, Castañeda is reaching voters virtually.
In a statement to the Signal, Castañeda affirmed the polling and its implications for her candidacy. “This poll confirms that when voters learn of the huge impact the Railroad Commission has on their lives and the environment, my 30-plus years of experience in preparing for the role, and my opponent’s history of environmental violations with the Railroad Commission, voters overwhelmingly choose me as their next Railroad Commissioner.”
Some of the biggest donors to the Republican Party in Texas are oil and gas executives. They also have been a boon to Trump. In June he came to Dallas and held a fundraiser at the home of Kelcy Warren, Chairman and CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the company that is overseeing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Warren donated $50,000 to Wright’s primary opponent, the incumbent Sitton.
Ahead of the primary, Wright promised to recuse himself from any railroad commission matters that involved a campaign contributor. He has since qualified that campaign pledge, now saying he would recuse himself only if a contribution came before a vote.
Photo: Hays County Democratic Party