Late Tuesday night, Jim Wright — an oilfield environmental service business owner — looked up at the television on which results were broadcast and realized he’d just won two elections in the span of eight months while being outspent four to one throughout.
His 10-point primary victory over incumbent Commissioner Ryan Sitton was the shock of Super Tuesday. While the March victory was akin to the Miracle on Ice, the general election was more like this year’s World Series: the favorited Los Angeles Dodgers not just surviving an unexpected and fervent push by the Tampa Bay Rays, but winning in only six games.
On Tuesday, Wright nearly matched his primary percentage margin, winning by over a million votes.
His opponent, Dallas oil and gas attorney Chrysta Castañeda, received a large $2.3 million boon down the home stretch to her campaign from billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
Once the result became clear, Wright told The Texan, “Texans have spoken. Our state is not for sale to radical liberals from New York and California. Texas will determine its own energy future and that is a future that includes an all of the above approach led by fossil fuels and finding new ways to improve our climate and environment.”
“I want to thank the hundreds of thousands of Texans who ignored the lies and mistruths from the other side and especially thank my wife Sherry and our family for their unfailing support throughout this campaign,” he concluded.
Wright and about 50 supporters gathered at his south Texas ranch Tuesday night to watch their man complete what was unthinkable a year ago. Based on conventional wisdom, Wright shouldn’t have even been in the general election given how outmatched he was in the primary. But he out-maneuvered Sitton eight months ago and out-powered Castañeda on Tuesday.
His recipe for success in the primary was rural Texas. Wright beat Sitton in counties of 30,000 or fewer voters by 28 percent and 100,000 votes.
This time around, he expanded that advantage even more. With a 571,664-vote margin in those counties, he beat Castañeda by nearly 55 percent.
Within all counties with 30,000 or more voters, Wright won by a much slimmer five percent, but still nearly 485,000 votes. Castañeda’s bright spots only came in four of the state’s five most-populated counties — Harris, Bexar, Dallas, and Travis — which she swept.
Wright won Tarrant by 50,000 votes, a county known as a historical anomaly among other large counties as it consistently turns red in most elections.
Not only did Wright outperform his primary victory, but the last two GOP Railroad Commission performances as well. He received 1.1 million more votes than Commissioner Wayne Christian in 2016 and nearly 1.4 million more than Commissioner Christi Craddick two years ago.
This is despite Castañeda substantially outperforming previous Democratic candidates in raw votes earned.
In concession, Castañeda said, “After a long campaign, the voters of Texas have had their say, and they have elected my opponent. I am so grateful to the millions of Texans who turned out and voted for a cleaner, healthier Texas. 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.”
Democrats have not won a seat on the RRC in 30 years and after Tuesday’s loss, that number will only climb higher.
“Thank you to all the volunteers and supporters — and of course my amazing campaign staff — for working so incredibly hard over this past year. I am grateful to you all for making this journey with me,” she concluded.
Wright and Castañeda clashed over policy — Wright accusing Castañeda of wishing for the end of the oil and gas industry, and Castañeda accusing Wright of negligence toward the environment.
One of Castañeda’s most prominent campaign talking points knocked Wright for his role in environmental violations issued at a business of his. However, upon further examination, those violations occurred after Wright had sold the company and before he repossessed it — after which he remedied the violations at his own expense.
National progressives saw this seat as within reach both due to Wright’s primary upset and the fervor surrounding Texas’ potential “swing state” status. And in Castañeda, they saw the chance to throw a wrench into a Republican-controlled machine.
Those hopes didn’t pan out, however, and the vast swathes of money tossed in did little to help.
That’s no skin off Wright’s back, however, as he begins the transition into the statewide regulatory position. Part of his job will be to oversee and partially guide an oil and gas industry rife with uncertainty, but which is regaining its sea legs after the pandemic’s blow.
If Texas were its own nation, it’d be in the top five oil and gas producers in the world. To stress the industry’s importance to the state and nation would be to understate it.
In his own right, the south Texas man has criticized the RRC for its liberal issuance of drilling permits while protecting private property rights. He’s emphasized the need for the RRC to “regain the public’s trust.”
After his victory, Wright’s phone began ringing off the hook. It didn’t subside, Wright said, until he decided to turn it off and go to bed Wednesday night.
And, for the first time in months, together with his family and friends, Wright was able to get an ounce of rest. Helping that, he joked, was the full belly of Gill’s BBQ, the Alice restaurant which catered his watch party.
But now the real job begins.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.