The Railroad Commissioner’s Race

In recent years, both political parties have at times “eaten their own” in primary elections. If an incumbent cooperates excessively with the opposition or lacks platform plank fervor, she faces getting caricatured as ideologically impure and unfit for continued representation.

A reformer then rises to rile the masses (or at least the politicos) and rallies to remove the disappointment. Political cleansing, if you will.

Certain contests across the state had such a tone and outcome Tuesday. One did not: the statewide race for Railroad Commission, an anachronistically-named state agency that manages oil and gas issues. The incumbent sought a second term after being appointed to his post by Governor Perry in 2003 and then elected to a first full term in 2004.

Though a politician when first tapped to serve (councilman of a city of 100,000, then county judge representing 125,000 people), Victor Carrillo was actually qualified for the Railroad Commission. A licensed geoscientist with a master’s degree in geology from Baylor, he also held a law degree from the University of Houston.

In addition to industry qualifications and political experience, Mr. Carrillo has impeccable conservative credentials. Unabashedly pro-life and pro-family (25-year marriage, 3 home-schooled daughters), he garnered the support of virtually every conservative group and statewide official willing to endorse in a primary (most stay neutral in internecine affairs).

The major urban newspapers have no problem playing favorites in primaries, and all but the Houston Chronicle endorsed Carrillo (and the Chronicle made no choice on the matter).

So what caused Victor Carrillo to lose in a landslide, 39-61? Was he outspent? Hardly. He raised and spent more than $500,000. His opponent, a little-known accountant with minimal industry experience from a town of 6,000, expended less than $30,000.

Was Carrillo outworked? Not apparently. He covered the bases of direct mail, radio and print advertising, “robo” phone calls and personal campaigning. Was it because he was an incumbent? No. Other statewide incumbents won going away.

I dislike those who play the race card almost as much as I dislike outright racists. While I understand the need for historical affirmative action, I rarely think people’s plights today are dictated by their race. Too many of all shades have accomplished too much.

But in Commissioner Carrillo’s case, no explanation exists except he was discriminated against because of his Hispanic surname.

Making the sin more egregious, our party has voted out a key connection to the fastest growing voter group in the state. With no Hispanic Republican in the Texas House or Senate, we’ve now expunged one of our three Hispanic statewide officeholders.

(Incumbent Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman staved off defeat Tuesday by having the good fortune of being opposed by a fellow Hispanic. Her Supreme Court colleague, David Medina, is up for re-election in 2012.)

One should not vote for a candidate strictly because of her race, but neither should a person not vote for someone strictly because of his race.

So three pleas for my fellow Republicans: check your racial biases permanently; if not permanently, at least at the primary voting booth door; and if not there, at least leave blank the races you know nothing about. Better to leave your ballot blank and be thought a fool than to make a mark and remove all doubt.

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