Republican Jim Wright ahead of Chrysta Castañeda in Texas Railroad Commission race

James “Jim” Wright defeated incumbent Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton in the Republican Primary. Credit: Social media

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Republican Jim Wright had a solid lead over Democrat Chrysta Castañeda early Wednesday morning in the race for Texas Railroad Commissioner, according to unofficial results from Decision Desk HQ.

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Wright was ahead of Castañeda 53.4% to 43.2%, with an estimated 87.3% of votes counted. Libertarian candidate Matt Sterett had 2.2%, and Green Party candidate Katija "Kat" Gruene had 1.2%.

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.