Election 2020

Republican Candidate Jim Wright Poised To Be Texas’ Next Oil And Gas Regulator

The state Democratic Party called the Railroad Commission election the most important environmental race in the country, in what was a highly-watched contest that gained national attention.

The campaign websites of Jim Wright and Chrysta Castañeda
Republican Jim Wright, left, and Democrat Chrysta Castañeda ran for Texas Railroad Commission on very different platforms.

Political newcomer Jim Wright is poised to be the state's next oil and gas regulator. Texans elected the Republican business owner to serve on the three-member Railroad Commission, which regulates energy resources in the state.

Wright secured 53.2% of the vote, with an estimated 91.8% of the total votes counted, gaining a nearly 10 point lead against his Democratic opponent, Dallas lawyer and engineer Chrysta Castañeda.

Wright beat incumbent Ryan Sitton in the GOP primaries in what many considered an upset. Wright shares a name with a beloved Texas politician, the late congressman and former House Speaker Jim Wright, and some say the familiar name might have contributed to the victory.

Castañeda was backed by environmental groups, and the state Democratic Party called the Railroad Commission election the most important environmental race in the country. Castañeda made issues like reigning in flaring — when a company burns off excess natural gas into the atmosphere — central to her campaign.

“I am so grateful to the millions of Texans who turned out and voted for a cleaner, healthier Texas,” Castañeda wrote in a statement Wednesday morning. “Our movement is about more than just this election, so even though we may not have won this round, we have made a tremendous impact.”

Commissioners are elected to six-year terms in staggered elections. Wright will join Republicans Christi Craddick and Wayne Christian.

The Railroad Commission could play a big role in how the energy industry recovers from the coronavirus downturn. The RRC approves permits for things like new drilling projects and pipelines, and has the power to implement more environmental reviews and considerations.

That's why Texas climate change activists put so much emphasis on the RRC race. It even got some out of state attention; in the final days, billionaire Michael Bloomberg donated $2.6 million to the democratic candidate.

Both candidates had garnered donations from the oil and gas industry, but Wright was the clear favorite. His top donations were from PACs representing the interests of oil and gas companies.

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