Texas’ governor is at it again. Just 15 minutes ago, dozen’s of bills went down in flames under the governor’s veto pen. This included a bill essential to providing more efficient enforcement of ethics violations in the Texas political process: the Ethics Commission sunset bill (SB 219), which passed by 97 percent in the House and 94 percent in the Senate.
Why veto such an overwhelmingly popular bill? It is because of a provision in the bill that would require members of the Railroad Commission to step down if they announce their candidacy for another office. This again demonstrates that the governor is more interested in protecting powerful politicians than protecting Texas residents.
Members of the Railroad Commission frequently seek higher office. Recently, two commissioners ran against each other for the same U.S. Senate seat. The commissioners, who serve more like judges than elected state officials, oversee complex oil and gas cases that require familiarity with the law and impartiality. When commissioners use their position as a springboard to run for another office, they often go absent from the commission, and the demands of campaigning reduce their ability to do their job. This portion of the legislation could have been used as a model for how to adequately reform the Railroad Commission, but instead the governor shot it down.
It is worth noting that 81-93 percent of the total campaign donations to the commissioners come from the oil and gas industry, which is overseen by the Railroad Commission. Perhaps that’s why in 2012, despite handling 82 contested cases, the commission didn’t deny a permit to an oil and gas company even once. Clearly, the industry doesn’t want to risk losing members of the Railroad Commission who have been carefully cultivated.
It is a bad sign for democracy when a single person can veto the will of almost an entire legislature, and when a sunset bill for an entire state agency is sunk because of just one provision that would inconvenience the oil and gas industry.
Click here to see other bills vetoed by the governor and his justification for some of them.