Perry Vetoes Modest, Mincing Reform of Texas' Political Aspirant "Springboard" (Aka the Railroad Commission)

Categories: Legislature

In case you missed it, Gov. Rick Perry used his veto Friday to override the bipartisan will of the legislature, which sought to inject the most meager, almost universally agreeable ethics reform into the state oil and gas regulator.

They attempted to do this because the Railroad Commission of Texas is known as a full-time fundraiser for higher-office seekers. The Sunset Advisory Commission called it a "springboard" for political aspirants. So, lawmakers decided that perhaps it wasn't such a good idea for regulators to seek another elected office and line their campaign war chests with oil and gas industry money while regulating... the oil and gas industry. The legislation they sent to Perry's desk would require that commissioners resign first.

If you'll recall, back in 2011, commissioners Michael Williams and Elizabeth Ames Jones both made failed runs for the same U.S. Senate seat while campaigning and fundraising heartily. Meanwhile, they were charged with overseeing complex, contested oil and gas cases that take no small amount of time and expertise to comprehend. Our lawmakers and the Sunset panel decided this did not inspire confidence in the Railroad Commission's impartiality.

Perry nevertheless vetoed the bill and claimed the measure would "change the structure of a constitutional agency without the consent of Texas voters."

"This portion of the legislation could have been used as a model for how to adequately reform the Railroad Commission," said Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen. "But instead the governor shot it down."

The bill was remarkable only for the modesty of its aims. It included none of the other Sunset recommendations. Absent was a provision to limit the amount of time commissioners can spend fundraising. It didn't include a measure to change the name of the Texas Railroad Commission to one more apt, since it doesn't regulate railroads. It wouldn't even prohibit commissioners from accepting campaign donations from an oil and gas company whose contested case they are currently hearing.

None of it made its way into the ethics reform bill, even though each would remedy conditions that are ripe for conflicts of interest. For example, 55,000 violations were identified last year. Only two percent were sent up for enforcement action. That sounds like a regulator that doesn't do much regulating.

But perhaps that's just the way the governor likes it.

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Damn, it's like he knows he's going to get his ass kicked in next year's primary, much less the Gubernatorial election, so he's getting in his wish list to Satan, erm, Santa early. I'd say "If you want to see a real change, get off your ass and vote," but Perry's been coasting for decades (ever since his days as Agriculture Secretary) on voter apathy in midterm elections, so I suspect that he's going to leave us with an obscene mess as he wanders off into the sunset. I never figured that I'd be getting nostalgic for Dolph Briscoe, but when Perry gets so vile that he makes me nostalgic for Bill Clements, I'm moving.

RTGolden1 topcommenter

When I sold propane, (and propane accessories) the railroad commission was basically a joke.  They didn't create any of the regulations or best practices they're supposed to enforce.  An industry group, PERC, basically wrote all the tests, came up with the safety procedures and guidelines and provided all the material for continuing education in the field.  All the railroad commission did was stamp approved or denied.  Propane is lucky, the industry actually has an interest in effective self-regulation.  The rest of the oil and gas industry, not so much.  And, if you dont' have self-regulation in TX, you might as well not have any.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

OOPS is now the soi-disant ruling monarch of Texas.  

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter


Buck Strickland doesn't really strike me as the kinda' fella that would be into "self-regulation".

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