Texans can improve one of their most powerful — and some say intentionally deceptive — state agencies, but they must act fast.
Early voting runs through Friday and election day is next Tuesday in Republican and Democratic primary runoff races. Both parties have runoffs for an open seat on the Railroad Commission.
What’s important to know about the Railroad Commission, a three-member elected body, is that for more than a decade it has had nothing to do with railroads.
This is the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, a cornerstone of the Texas economy. That makes the commission extremely powerful.
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As a Sunset Advisory Commission staff report pointed out late last month, the Railroad Commission’s name “misleads the public.”
Sunset, a body made up of state legislators, periodically reviews state agencies and offers ideas for improvement — or even that the agency be discontinued.
Shamefully, this is the third time since 2011 that the Sunset staff has pointed out the deceptive nature of the Railroad Commission’s name, but sitting commissioners have fought previous attempts at change.
The current recommendation is that the name be changed to Texas Energy Resources Commission.
Gary Gates, 56, a rancher and real estate executive from Rosenberg, near Houston, favors the change.
His opponent, former state Rep. Wayne Christian, 65, from Center in East Texas, has not made the name change a priority. The industry endorses Christian.
It’s odd that the agency name should be a factor in a political race. But in many ways it is symbolic of a much bigger problem with the Railroad Commission.
The current members of the commission are too closely tied to the industry they are supposed to regulate. They frequently travel the state to speak on behalf of the virtues of that industry.
The commission sorely needs an outsider.
Gates says his knowledge of the oil and gas industry comes from being a landowner who has leased his property for mineral exploration — like the people from Tarrant County and across the Barnett Shale who have been through the leasing experience.
As the successful owner of a 300-employee business, he has the organizational skills needed in statewide elective office. His supporters include state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland.
In the Democratic runoff, retired San Antonio schoolteacher Grady Yarbrough, 79, is running against former journalist Cody Garrett, 44. Neither is qualified for the Railroad Commission job.
The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends Gary Gates in the Republican primary runoff for Railroad Commission.