One out of four candidates will take the open Railroad Commissioner spot, a position which has nothing to do with trains.
The commission regulates the oil and gas industry for the state and takes charge over similar energy-related topics, like pipeline safety and alternative fuel. Originally, the commission regulated railroads upon its creation by the Texas Legislature in 1891. Oil production in Texas skyrocketed in the early 20th century, and consequently, the commissioners were tasked with overseeing the oil industry. The state institution is made up of three commissioners: Christi Craddick, David Porter and Ryan Sitton. The term is six years, which is staggered among the three commissioners. Porter is not running for re-election, leaving room for one of the four candidates. Three of the candidates gathered at the Hurst Public Library for a debate, attended by about 24 people. Republican candidate Wayne Christian did not attend the debate.
Libertarian Party Mark Miller
Miller said experience separates him from his opponents. He earned his doctoral degree from Stanford University in petroleum engineering, then taught classes at UT-Austin before establishing his own engineering consulting practice.
This is Miller’s second time running as the Libertarian candidate for commissioner, after losing in 2014. He has never served in a public office position but said the job needs someone with technical experience.
“We should have more politicians that come out of everyday life,” Miller said.
Miller wants to make the commission more transparent, technologically forward and an advocate for the people. He supports changing the name of the institution so residents and voters understand what the commission does. He said the commission should outsource to a firm within the state for technical expertise.
Miller believes the government should protect people but not tell them how to live their lives. He supports renewable and alternative energy but said government shouldn’t mandate an energy plan. He thinks residents should make those decisions for themselves.
Miller was born in San Antonio but moved around to West Virginia and California before resettling near Austin in 1983.
Green Party Martina Salinas
The series of earthquakes in North Texas in late 2013 inspired Salinas to run for the commission. She recalled a commissioner at the time who refused to answer questions from the media and said the commission acted on behalf of oil companies instead of the people. If elected, her goal is to advocate for Texans as a commissioner.
Salinas earned a bachelor’s degree in civil technology and construction management from the University of Houston. She said she could have had a career at an oil or gas company but decided to work in civil engineering.
“I’ve actually been out in the field with people with the shovels and everything around the equipment,” Salinas said. “Most of these commissioners use this position to go to higher office or get a job in the industry.”
Texas should stop fracking because it is the reason for the earthquakes, Salinas said.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of horizontal drilling to reach oil deposits underground. A water and sand mixture is blasted through the well to loosen up rocks.
Salinas said she believes in climate change and supports eliminating Texas’ dependence on fossil fuels, even if that means using taxpayer money to transition to renewable resources. She also said more ground inspections should take place.
Salinas ran as the Green Party candidate for the commission in 2014 and lost. She is a native Texan from Laredo.
Democratic Party Grady Yarbrough
Earthquakes also motivated Yarbrough to run for commissioner. He mentioned his granddaughters, who told him that they could feel the earth shaking.
Yarbrough said practice of fracking causes earthquakes and determines the severity of the quakes. He said fracking has dumped chemicals into residents’ water supplies in some areas, poisoning the water.
Yarbrough, a retired high school history and government teacher, said fracking creates an unsafe environment for many residents, especially children. He wants to end fracking and demands underground water supplies be inspected. Yarbrough said the commission should pay for people’s medical expenses when they get sick due to fracking.
The commission has engaged in unfair practices, Yarbrough said. Corporations have used “pay-to-play” tactics by donating to a commissioner’s campaign to sway the commission on a particular issue.
“If money is given and a favor is expected, then that, to me, is quid pro quo,” he said. “That is bribery, and that’s a crime.”
Yarbrough said he will not take money from any entity if elected.
Yarbrough is from Tyler, Texas. He earned a master’s degree in education from Prairie View A&M University.
Republican Party Wayne Christian
Christian is the conservative choice for Texans, as he is endorsed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The National Rifle Association and Texas Oil and Gas Association also support him.
Christian graduated with a bachelor’s in business from Stephen F. Austin University. He worked as legislator in the Texas House of Representatives from 1997 to 2013 and served on the Energy Resource committee. He also opened his own financial services building and was in a country-gospel band called the Mercy River Boys who were finalists for a Grammy in 1979.
Christian ran for commissioner in 2014 but lost in a primary run-off vote.
Christian did not respond to The Shorthorn’s request for an interview.