March 9, 2020
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The most unbelievable upset in a Texas election in modern history took place in the GOP primary with a state railroad commissioner race that played out like an X-rated sequel for the movie Sex, Lies, and Videotape that had been an Oscar nominee 30 years ago. An entire decade had passed since the unseating of a statewide official here before Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton's first re-election bid crashed in a catastrophic embarrassment in a primary contest that no one had been watching until Robstown Republican Jim Wright ousted the incumbent on Super Tuesday.
It wouldn't be entirely accurate to describe Wright as a no-name candidate considering that he sparked visions among older voters of a powerful Fort Worth politico who'd been the U.S. House speaker until the year that the original Sex, Lies, and Videotape was released. But the Jim Wright who served in Congress as a Democrat for almost three dozen years has been dead for almost five years. You could say the same about Sitton's political career in the wake of Wright's amazing first-round win with more than 56 percent of the primary vote this week.
Sitton - a wealthy engineering and technology firm owner from a coastal area near Houston - blamed the defeat on "extremely malicious and false information" that popped up out of the blue a couple of weeks before early voting got under way in an obscure Internet publication that claimed that the RRC member had engaged in trashy sexual fantasy text chatter with a former female employee who's black. The tabloid tattletale report triggered speculation on a pornographic video that was never verified beyond anything resembling reasonable doubt. Sitton declared in a primary post-mortem analysis that he'd been the victim of a vicious smear campaign that he didn't do enough to try to extinguish. "I thought that I could ignore it since it was so outrageous, and I was focusing heavily on the general election in November," Sitton said. "But in a low-profile down ballot race like Railroad Commissioner, I should have been more focused, and responded with an aggressive campaign of my own. I got complacent, and lost. A good example of the Lord keeping me humble."
The hindsight dissection of a defeat conjured memories among voters who remember Jim Wright the Democrat of the Lubbock native Mac Davis hit song with the famous line "Oh Lord it's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way." Sitton had acknowledged that he had been a far cry from the perfect candidate. Sitton actually did repudiate the allegations regarding his personal life in a social media appraisal that made fun of the charges as though it was all a bad joke that had effectively been discredited. But he overlooked the worst of the alleged self-inflicted wounds in the reflection on the round one ouster without a word about accusations that he'd referred to Republican RRC Chair Christi Craddick with a nasty ethnic slur that would be criminal in the eyes of the #MeTooMovement. This was highly ill-advised if it's true in light of the fact that RRC chief's father Tom Craddick is a former Texas House speaker who's still a state representative and widely respected in GOP circles here. Sitton would be doomed as a consequence once the word on the younger Craddick trashing got out to Republican women clubs around the state.
But Wright wasn't one of these candidates who's no more than a name on the ballot like most Republicans and Democrats had assumed if they'd even known that Sitton faced a primary challenge. Wright, who owns several energy companies, made a smart move when he hired Steve Ray to be his campaign consultant. Wright couldn't afford high-dollar television advertising as a candidate who had less than $20,000 to spend on a fight with an incumbent who shelled out $800,000 before heading into the final 10 days before the vote with more than $2.2 million in the campaign bank.
Wright purchased some air time on the radio - however - with a couple of spots including one that focussed on a column that Sitton had composed with a highly-critical review of President Donald Trump when he'd first emerged as a candidate in 2015. Wright noted in a second radio ad that he'd been a bull-riding rodeo cowboy who could smell BS like he claimed that Sitton had been spreading with positions on the energy business. Wright also had the ability to capitalize to some degree on the sizzling issue of immigration as a candidate whose wife has been a paraplegic since a car crash a few years ago involving a driver who'd been in the country illegally.
Republican Victor Carrillo had been a prohibitive favorite back in 2010 in a RRC re-election race that ended when he lost to a primary challenger who'd appeared to get a boost from an Anglo-sounding name in a fight with a foe who's Latino. The main key to victory for Wright had been to get himself in position to be the beneficiary if and win Sitton found a way to beat himself. The challenger couldn't have been any more successful in that regard in a statewide race that will feature a general election showdown in November with the winner of a Democratic primary runoff fight between a couple of Dallas residents in first-round leader Chrysta Castaneda and former Texas House member Roberto Alonzo.
The Best of the Election selections for 2020 Texas primary will be unveiled this month in separate installments.