Why Wayne Christian is likely to win obscure Railroad Commission race

In theory, Mark Miller should be looking forward to Election Day.

Running for state railroad commissioner, Miller appears to be eminently qualified for the post: The agency regulates the oil and gas industry, and he is a petroleum engineer. He’s won the endorsements of The Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle. On the stump, he speaks with fluency about the challenges faced by the oil and gas industry. He’s even written a book about oil and gas regulation.

But Miller is a Libertarian, making victory unlikely.

Instead, he is likely to lose badly to Wayne Christian, a former state lawmaker from East Texas and financial planner who has the endorsement of Gov. Greg Abbott. Christian is also endorsed by the Texas Oil and Gas Association political action committee, and backed by conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan. Perhaps most significantly, Christian is the nominee of the Republican Party. In an obscure statewide race, Christian is likely to win by dint of straight-party votes in Republican-rich Texas.

WATCH: What does the Railroad Commission do?

Christian also has a huge fundraising advantage, with $130,000 in cash available as the race enters its final month, according to the latest campaign finance filings. Major contributions have come from oil and gas executives and oil and gas companies.

Miller has $40,000 in cash on hand. His biggest contribution — $30,000 — is from Austin’s Michael Chastain, a major contributor to Libertarian causes.

Democrat Grady Yarbrough has reported raising no money. And Green Party candidate Martina Salinas has $1,195 on hand.

With a win seemingly a sure thing, Christian has proven elusive, missing debates, including one in Austin in mid-September.

A moderator at that Austin event said his campaign had informed the event’s organizers that he couldn’t appear due to a family emergency. Before the event, he hadn’t committed to attend because of scheduling conflicts, according to event organizers.

SPECIAL REPORT: At Texas oil and gas regulator, close ties to industry

Christian didn’t respond to requests for comment; campaign spokesman Travis McCormick said Christian has appeared at one candidate forum since the Republican primary.

That has left room for Miller to hold forth.

Asked about hydraulic fracturing — in which millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, are injected into rock thousands of feet underground to extract natural gas — Miller said at the Austin forum: “I support responsible fracking, fracking that can be done without harming people’s ground water, fracking that can be done without harming the quiet enjoyment of their property, fracking that can be done without harming common natural resources.”

He added: “Any industrial activity has some level of risk; I choose to live in a world in which we accept a certain level of risk.”

He criticized the Railroad Commission for “knee-jerk support for oil and gas” and accused the agency of lacking technical competence on how industrial activity had contributed to earthquakes.

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Yarbrough, a former educator, said an area with fracking operations is “not an environment for schoolchildren to try to learn; it’s not good for our hospitals, churches, or facilities for seniors.”

Salinas said she was concerned that fracking could contaminate underground aquifers that provide drinking water to large areas of the state. She said the practice wasn’t well enough regulated.

Earlier this year, in an interview with the American-Statesman, Christian sidestepped questions about whether he thought there was a link between carbon emissions and global warming.

“I don’t agree with every scientific view,” Christian said.

Christian supports the Railroad Commission’s decision to hire a seismologist and a decision by the Legislature to fund further study of the relationship between fracking-related industrial activity and earthquakes, McCormick said.

In general, Christian supports fracking, McCormick said.

“The more we’re able to drill responsibly, the better for the economy and job growth and for the Texas budget,” McCormick said.

Early voting begins Oct. 24.

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