October 16, 2007
Railroad commissioner

There will be one other statewide non-judicial race on the ballot in Texas next year, for one of the three Railroad Commissioner slots. Clay Robison looks at the matchup between incumbent/Governor wannabe Michael Williams and his potential challengers.

In preparation for his re-election race, Michael Williams, the only commissioner and one of only a handful of state officials on the ballot next year, raised $322,045 during the last 11 days in June, his first opportunity following the ban on raising money during last spring's legislative session.

More than 70 percent of the money came from oil and gas executives, employees or political action committees or from law firms representing oil and gas interests.

And you can bet that in the upcoming 12 months before the 2008 general election, the foxes will shower Williams' share of the regulatory henhouse with much more moola.

"I make my decisions based on the record (of each case)," Williams said.

That may be, but the perception of a monied, insider coziness at the commission will remain as long as the industry's generosity continues and there aren't any legal limits on donations.

The last commissioner to spring into a higher, elected office was Carole Keeton Strayhorn (she was known as Rylander then), who was elected comptroller in the middle of a Railroad Commission term in 1998.

Williams, who succeeded Strayhorn in 1999, already is eyeing 2010. That's when Gov. Rick Perry's anticipated departure -- depending on who runs to succeed him -- could open up a U.S. Senate seat, the lieutenant governor's office or the attorney general's post.

Williams could run for any of the above without having to resign his commission seat, if he wins a new six-year term next year.

The Republican lock on statewide offices and his strong financial support from the oil and gas industry favor Williams' re-election, although his race could be affected by the presidential and U.S. Senate races at the top of the ballot.

Two Democrats -- former San Antonio City Councilman Art Hall and retired petroleum engineer Dale Henry of Lampasas -- already are running for the post.

Henry has lost two previous, underfunded Railroad Commission races.

Hall has enlisted former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros and former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro as honorary campaign co-chairmen and apparently has some ambitious fundraising plans.

It will be his first statewide campaign.

Although not unprecedented, a Williams-Hall race would be a rarity in Texas politics -- a statewide race between two black candidates.

"I am heartened by the fact that a young brother is interested in presenting himself to the people of Texas. If he wins the nomination, it could make for an interesting conversation among Texans," said Williams, 54. Hall is 36.

There's word of a third possible Democrat in the race, but it's too early to say for sure. As with the Senate and the Supreme Court, it's nice to see folks lining up for these races. I know little about Dale Henry, whose campaign last year was utterly invisible to me, though I know he has some passionate supporters and that's he's reportedly a very knowledgeable guy. Maybe this time that sort of information will be more widely available. As for Hall, I'm told he's considered somewhat of a rising star, who won a tough race for Council. I'm interested in learning more about him as well. We'll see how it goes.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 16, 2007 to Election 2008