A version of this story ran in the May 2013 issue.
Above: Warren Chisum
Under the pink dome of the Texas Capitol, oil man Warren Chisum settles into one of the plush, elevated chairs overlooking the empty committee room. Chisum is used to the view, which he’d enjoyed since 1989, when his Panhandle district first elected him to the House. Then, in 2012, he ran for railroad commissioner against Christi Craddick, daughter of Chisum’s ally and former Speaker of the House Tom Craddick. Chisum lost, but that didn’t keep him out of familiar committee rooms. Now he lobbies former colleagues in his distinctive Panhandle drawl.
“First of all you have to recognize that you’re not the decision maker, but you can influence decisions. So you change from being the one that decides to one that makes a reasonable argument. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that I don’t have a parking place.
“Used to, I had my own little door and get my pass to go up to the door. I could get right in here anytime, day or night, didn’t have to wait on seven o’clock. Well now that doesn’t work so I’ve got to go through the door like everybody else and take the stuff out of my pockets…
“What I really like about what I’m doing now is it’s not as much stress on me as it used to be.
“I usually try to get down here by seven o’clock ’cause that’s when it opens and a lot of my good friends still get here early and we have coffee and talk about our day. And then after that I focus on the members that I need to carry a message to or talk to them about a bill that’s coming around.
“My wife, who’s a member of the ladies club, they have plenty of stuff to entertain them, and Austin’s not a bad town to hang out in. If you haven’t found something to do in Austin, you just haven’t looked hard enough.
“I’m still very close to my district and so I get constituents who still call me. The new guy representing the area I was representing, well actually it’s two guys—Mr. King, and Springer is the other—and they’re very close friends, so we discuss it and take care of whatever district needs we can help them with.
“I’m focusing on the regulation of the oil and gas business, which is obviously the sunset bill of the Railroad Commission. I get to work on the stuff I’m really interested in.
“I really think it’s inevitable: if you’re a person doing business in Texas and you want to get a particular law passed, you’d want to hire somebody that knew the people. It’s a part of our government system and I think it’s just fine. I’m proud of Texas and proud of things that go on, so I like to have an input into what happens.
“With the infusion of ethics and the Ethics Commission over the years, which I’ve seen happen, it’s a lot more scrutinized by the general public. So if I buy [Rep.] Jimmie Aycock’s dinner there’s going to be a record of it. I actually haven’t bought his dinner yet, but I probably should … You tell him I owe him a dinner.
“I work with members any place they want me. If they want me to come in and help them write amendments to bills, I do that. If they want me to figure out how they can get their bill passed, I will go do that. A lot of times we’ve had occasions where I talk to them about the rules of the House and how it works. If you’ve got your bill stuck somewhere I’m happy to help you. I don’t get anything for that, either. It’s your friends, it’s just helping your friends.”
“I will only do this a couple years. It’s not a career for me, so as long as I’m having fun doing it I’ll be here, and when I’m not I’ll be gone. So don’t pass no laws telling me to go, because I’ll go without it.”