Gates advances to Railroad Commission runoff; Burnam third on Democratic side

The Republican race for Texas Railroad Commission is chugging toward a runoff that will include Rosenberg rancher and real estate mogul Gary Gates. 

Gates and former state Rep. Wayne Christian sat atop the field with 6 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday. If those trends hold true, the two would face off in May for an open seat on the commission that oversees the state’s iconic oil and gas sector. 

Gates drew 30 percent of those early votes. Christian, of Center, had registered 22 percent in a seven-way race that looked destined for a runoff from the start. 

Ron Hale, with 13 percent of the votes, sat in third. 

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The top vote-getter will face the winner of the Democratic primary. It was not clear late Tuesday whom that would be. 

The men are looking to fill David Porter’s shoes on the three-member commission, which also regulates mining, pipeline safety and natural gas utilities, but not railroads. Porter, who was first elected in 2010, shook up the Texas energy world in December when he announced that he would not seek re-election. That triggered a host of last-minute campaign launches. 

That included another Christian — Railroad Commission geologist Lance Christian, who ran solely on his scientific expertise. He sat in fourth place late Tuesday at 12 percent. 

The contests have unfolded as an epic crash in oil prices has plunged the petroleum industry into a world of uncertainty — spurring bankruptcies, layoffs and talk among candidates about how the commission should respond. 

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For the most part, the Republicans have stuck to the party’s bread-and-butter talking points, speaking of fighting back against the federal Environmental Protection Agency and maintaining a light regulatory touch to protect producers in Texas.  

With few concrete differences in policy, the candidates have largely sought to distinguish themselves by citing their backgrounds. 

Gates, who previously failed in four Texas Legislature bids, has suggested on the campaign trail that the commission needed someone with his knack for business. He was by far the biggest spender in the race — and the most visible advertiser, shelling out more than $1 million ahead of primary day. As of late February, he had an outstanding $2 million loan. 

“This is exciting, when you have this many people, when you have to come from virtually nothing,” he said in an interview Tuesday night, acknowledging that the big spending “certainly gave me the edge.”  

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On the Democratic side, Grady Yarbrough, a former U.S. Senate candidate from San Antonio, was leading with 40 percent of the votes after 3 percent of precincts had reported. 

Cody Garrett, a former Democratic campaign director, had 32 percent of those votes. Former Texas Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth followed with 28 percent. 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at