By: Sami Sparber – The Texas Tribune – Republican Jim Wright defeated Democrat Chrysta Castañeda in the race for Texas Railroad Commissioner, according to unofficial results from Decision Desk HQ.
Wright was ahead of Castañeda, 53.2% to 43.3%, with an estimated 91.8% of votes counted just before noon Central on Wednesday. Libertarian candidate Matt Sterett had 2.2%, and Green Party candidate Katija “Kat” Gruene had 1.2%.
Castañeda conceded Wednesday morning and said she was “grateful to the millions of Texans who turned out and voted for a cleaner, healthier Texas” in a written statement on Twitter.
“Our movement is about more than just this election, so even though we may not have won this round, we have made a tremendous impact,” Castañeda said.
The Railroad Commission of Texas regulates the state’s massive oil and gas industry, and its elected, three-member board has been entirely Republican for at least 25 years. No Democrat has been elected to any statewide seat in Texas since 1994.
But this year, with attention on Texas races up and down the ballot, a virtually unknown Republican candidate, and big-time donations to the Democratic nominee, Democrats thought they had a shot.
Wright, who owns an oilfield waste services company, shockingly defeated the incumbent railroad commissioner, Ryan Sitton, in the March primary. Sitton, elected in 2014, raised significantly more money and had the support of top state leaders including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and both of the state’s Republican U.S. senators.
State Democrats and environmental groups nationwide called Castañeda’s bid “the biggest environmental race in the country.” The normally low-profile race got a massive fundraising boost last month when billionaire Michael Bloomberg made a late donation of $2.6 million to Castañeda.
The outside support allowed Castañeda, a Dallas engineer and lawyer who specializes in the energy industry, to place television ads across Texas, educating voters about the commission and slamming Wright, an oil and gas businessman from Orange Grove, for violating state environmental rules. In 2017, the commission fined a business Wright once owned “after an inspector found waste stockpiled directly on the ground, waste material storage tanks leaking material into the soil and unpermitted stormwater ponds collecting around the machinery and the facility,” according to the Austin American-Statesman. He paid $181,519 for the violations.