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Race for Railroad Commissioner: Experience vs. GOP Cred

Democrat Jeff Weems has endorsements from all major newspapers—but can that make up for the
by Published on

You can always spot the politicians at a party—they’re the ones talking a lot, mainly about themselves, their opinions, and just how much better they are than their opponents. That makes David Porter, the Republican candidate for Texas Railroad Commission, a rare breed of political wallflower, fading into the background and banking on his GOP branding to carry him to victory on Election Day.

There’s little doubt that the Democrat in the race, Jeff Weems, is the more qualified candidate. Weems is an oil and gas lawyer, the industries the Railroad Commission oversees. He has a long history in the field—and he’s the Democrats’ best hope for a statewide win outside the governor’s race. Weems has received endorsements from the state’s six major newspapers—and impressive feat that Weems believes will make the difference between winning and losing.  “I need to continue garnering these endorsements,” he proclaims. “The more attention that can be focused on this race, the better I do.” Weems has campaigned all across the state, touting his qualifications and detailing the need for more inspectors to monitor industry.

That’s in stark contrast to his opponent, who didn’t even return phone calls from The Dallas Morning News editorial board. (He didn’t return calls for this story either.) Porter doesn’t have the background that Weems does. Porter worked as a certified public accountant in Midland before he came out of nowhere to best sitting commissioner Victor Carrillo in the March GOP primary (which Carrillo and some pundits attributed to Republican primary voters’ aversion to a Latino name). The Railroad Commission “should and can and probably should control or should control air emissions from production equipment,” Porter said haltingly in the Texas Tribune’s online “face-off” between the two candidates. It was one of his most declarative statements, but it was an opinion he and Weems share—that the Railroad Commission should monitor emissions from oil and gas activity as opposed to letting the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality do the regulation. Porter rarely comes in direct disagreement with Weems. During the face-off, Porter was hesitant to say much, except that he has an open mind—and few clear opinions. “I don’t have any programs that I’m just opposed to,” he told the camera.

In Porter’s case, though, obscurity could well be a winning strategy. If he’d been a visible force on the campaign trail, Porter might have gotten more attention, and his lack of credentials might have hurt his chances. But while he doesn’t know a lot about the oil and gas industry, he does know something about politics in Texas: If you can keep your mouth shut, more voters will recognize the “R” than the name beside it.