Climate Politics Almanac: Texas March 1 Primary
From Trumpian climate deniers to Green New Dealers
One week from today, it will be election day in Texas, the oil-soaked state that is home to the Permian climate bomb, but also to a clean energy revolution that is happening in spite of hostile state government. Candidates who don’t receive at least 50 percent of the vote in their primaries will advance to a runoff on May 24. Here is a breakdown of some of the most interesting and competitive races.
Republican Governor Greg Abbott is running for a third term. To understand what kind of politician Abbott is, consider this excerpt from a 2017 profile:
…in 1984 a tree fell on him while he was jogging through the wealthy enclave of River Oaks, in Houston, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. He had just graduated from law school and had no health insurance. Fortunately, he won a nine-million-dollar judgment against the homeowner whose tree had fallen and the company that had inspected the tree and failed to recommend its removal. Later, Abbott, as a member of the Texas Supreme Court, and then as attorney general, supported measures that capped pain-and-suffering damages in medical-malpractice cases at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
It looks like Abbott has embraced Trump and opposed science just enough to defeat former Texas GOP Chair Allen West and other candidates, and so will likely face former Rep. Beto O’Rourke in the general election. Abbott, whose first instinct in responding to the Texas energy freeze last February was to consult with outspoken climate-denying TV meteorologist Joe Bastardi, has pledged to “protect the oil and gas industry from any type of hostile attack from Washington, D.C.”
O’Rourke was a member of the New Democrat Coalition and voted to lift the oil export ban during his three terms in the US House, but he tacked left during his US Senate and presidential campaigns, and has thus far emphasized the need to modernize Texas’ energy grid as a major campaign message.
Several other executive offices are up for election. The primary for Attorney General will be competitive on both sides. On the Republican side, a chaotic contest between Jeb Bush’s son George P. Bush, lunatic Rep. Louie Gohmert, and indicted incumbent Ken Paxton is almost certain to continue to the May runoff date. On the Democratic side, the field is crowded. In the general election, Texas’ repressive new set of abortion restrictions will probably dominate the debate if frontrunner Rochelle Garza emerges as the Democratic candidate. Garza is a civil rights attorney from Brownsville who testified against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after he ruled against her client in the reproductive rights case Garza v. Hargan.
Texas Railroad Commission
Wayne Christian, the Chair of the 3-member Texas Railroad Commission, which is theoretically supposed to regulate the oil and gas industry, is also up for re-election. In 2020, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg invested millions in a failed effort to support a former fracking lawyer’s candidacy over ardent climate change denier (and now Commissioner) Jim Wright. This year’s race is shaping up to be more intriguing in some ways.
The Republican primary has taken many bizarre twists in recent weeks, after Christian was caught accepting an unseemly $100,000 from the boosters of an oil-waste dump site he had just voted to approve. (On the campaign trail, Christian insists that he will “not bend the knee to extremist special interest groups who want to halt the production of oil and gas,” since his job apparently is to accommodate regulated entities.) Christian faces challenges from oil and gas attorney Sarah Stogner, who at least says she wants to hold bad oil and gas operators accountable, but lost a major newspaper endorsement after releasing an ad that was, um, flashy. Also challenging Christian is QAnon conspiracy theorist Nick Moutos, who wishes to remind Democrats that Republicans have all the guns. Wrapping up the field is engineering consultant Tom Slocum Jr., who (like the incumbent) believes the Commission must remain a captured regulator. Whoever emerges from that mess will face off in the general election against Texas Democratic Party operative Luke Warford, who calls this election “the most important climate election in the country.” Warford is running on a compelling message about the failure of the Texas energy grid, and wants to crack down on methane flaring.
US House primaries
TX-28 (Incumbent Henry Cuellar)
As previously reported, “Big Oil’s Favorite Democrat,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, faces a tough challenge from Jessica Cisneros, who is receiving major support from the Sunrise Movement and other progressive organizations. Outside spending and support is pouring into this district, where Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have rallied with Cisneros in recent weeks, and the Justice Democrats and other progressive organizations have funded ads for Cisneros. Following the FBI raid on his home, Cuellar has ramped up his fear-mongering on the airwaves.
Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez is leaving this seat, after he faced a closer-than-expected challenge in the Rio Grande Valley in 2020. The conservative Gonzalez, who formed the House’s Oil and Gas Caucus just a few years ago, then teamed with Cuellar and others to obstruct Build Back Better. When Texas Republicans made this district even more competitive, Gonzalez opted to run for the open and more safely blue 34th district located southeast of the 15th. A number of Republican and Democratic candidates have gotten into a crowded primary for this open seat, which will likely be Texas’ most competitive in the general election. Michelle Vallejo, who owns a popular flea market in the district, appears to be the progressive candidate in the race.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson has served in Congress since 1993, and since 2019, she has chaired the House Science Committee, which plays a vital role in climate through its oversight of NASA, NOAA, and Energy Department technological research. Bernice Johnson is one of three committee chairs and 30 total House Democrats to announce their retirement so far this cycle, creating an open seat in this downtown Dallas district. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is supporting state Rep. Jasmine Crockett, who is also getting a bizarre level of support from cryptocurrency interests. The Democratic Majority for Israel PAC (which has weighed in decisively in numerous recent primaries) is supporting former congressional staffer Jane Hope Hamilton. This race looks primed to be a progressive/centrist matchup in May between Crockett and Hamilton (who, amusingly, have both been endorsed by the Dallas Morning News), but fundraising totals suggest that legislative staffer Abel Mulugheta and Nina Turner/VoteVets/Brand New Congress-backed Jessica Mason are also contenders.
In the past, Republicans have carved up Austin into several different districts to prevent any Democrat from taking advantage of the state capital’s progressive streak. This year, they instead created a safe Democratic seat centered in Austin in order to increase their advantages elsewhere. Austin City Councilmember and Green New Dealer Greg Casar announced he would run for this new district, and quickly consolidated support from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Sunrise Movement, labor unions, and progressive party figures such as Bernie Sanders, AOC, former state senator Wendy Davis, and Travis County’s reformist DA. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez is Casar’s most notable opponent, and he is running an anti-homeless campaign with major support from landlords and realtors.