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New Energy in the Senate Republican Primary

A Houston energy lawyer is challenging Ted Cruz, but can he woo over the senator’s oil and gas benefactors?

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Courtesy of Stefano for Texas, U.S. Senate/Facebook page

The Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate is about to get a jolt of energy.

Houston energy lawyer Stefano de Stefano announced that he will run against Ted Cruz in the Texas primary race, according to the Houston Chronicle. De Stefano will be tabling his legal career with Diamond Offshore Drilling, a deepwater drilling contractor that posted a $1.6 billion revenue in 2016, to focus on the race. The political novice says that he will “leverage his private sector leadership and negotiation acumen” to help small business owners and entrepreneurs in Texas. As a senator, he said he would focus on “supporting the economic engines of the state by simplifying regulations that limit competitiveness.”

And one of those primary “economic engines” is the industry de Stefano has been a part of since 2007. “I’ve had an entire career of experience brokering deals in the energy sector,” de Stefano told Texas Monthly. “With that experience I can be the ambassador for energy that Texas sorely needs.”

It’s unclear if Texas’s energy giants will choose to back one of their own, but they’ve been steadily pumping black gold into Cruz’s coffers for years. According to OpenSecrets, the oil and gas energy gave more money to Cruz than any other candidate in any national race in 2016, coming in at $1,457,628 in total contributions. In his 2012 Senate race, oil and gas gave Cruz $780,282, more than any other congressional candidate that year.

From the headlines, it seems that Cruz has been a Washington advocate for Texas’s number one export in return. In the midst of the Keystone XL pipeline debate—which many conservatives viewed as the Obama administration’s war on fossil fuels—Senator Cruz introduced the American Energy Renaissance Act in March 2014. In addition to immediately approving construction of the pipeline, the bill would have eliminated EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions without Congress’s approval. It would also prohibit the federal government from interfering with state-level regulations on fracking.

“A Great American Energy Renaissance is at our fingertips,” Cruz said shortly before introducing the bill. “There is only one thing that will stop us from embracing it to its full potential: the federal government. Nothing else will stop the next generation of American energy pioneers. It won’t be lack of determination, ingenuity, or grit. It will be some faceless bureaucrat who simply says, ‘You’re not allowed to do that.'”

Cruz has filed two other bills promoting the so-called Energy Renaissance since, but all three have ultimately gone nowhere. And that, according to de Stefano, is the problem—he seems unsure if the senator himself buys into them. “He’s doing it to score points for presidential runs,” de Stefano said. “The reason he’s pushing this isn’t because he cares, it’s because he needs votes in West Virginia and Iowa.”

As Politico noted during the 2016 Republican presidential primary race, Cruz stood out in a field of candidates considered particularly friendly toward fossil fuels for his aggressive support of lifting a ban on crude exports and removing a federal rule for blending ethanol into gas. But according to GovTrack, which keeps tabs on congressional legislation, Cruz’s track record as the primary sponsor on energy-related bills is pretty dismal: only 5 percent of the bills he has sponsored address the energy sector.

Certainly, some of Cruz’s policies have been accused of being too hardline to gain traction. But de Stefano doesn’t necessarily disagree with all of Cruz’s talking points when it comes to energy. “I want to get rid of ethanol subsidies too. The point, though, is that he’s ineffective. It’s not that the bill is necessarily a bad bill,” de Stefano explained. “You can’t go to the Senate and be a one-man show. It just doesn’t work.”

So perhaps Cruz’s status as the “most hated man in Washington” might leave the energy industry looking for a new champion.

“I think I’m going to be an alternative [for the energy sector]. There’s finally a choice for the energy sector, and I’m a credible choice now,” de Stefano said. “I think they’ll see me as somebody who has the ability and the willingness, more importantly, to actually represent them and be their ambassador.”

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  • MartinAustinTX

    No thanks.

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    • j smith

      Get serious, we have 185 experienced political figures in Austin of whom at least 2% should be qualified as legitimate senate candidates. We don’t need a greenhorn lawyer with a big ego in the hunt. Cruz needs to go! And Beto isn’t the answer.

  • don76550

    No way in hell I would vote against Cruz. He is the best senator Texas has ever had

    • Finbarr Bishop

      well – no probably not but why would you even say such a thing? He really struggles to build relationships which is something generally considered important in politics and certainly is important in the Senate. Legislatively he has accomplished nothing of note. He seems to be a very bright person and on some fundamental level he seems to be decent – Did you mean to say he has the best Texas Senator Haircut ever? He has good hair – I’m not sure on what other criteria he would be considered even an adequate Senator though

      • BreezerMom

        I suggest you look a little closer at Cruz’ record. He has been instrumental on many issues. For example, Cruz was credited with the demise of the “Gang of 8” bill.

        • Finbarr Bishop

          I think that is fairly sad- you’re a supporter and that’s his leading accomplishment? Doesn’t that tell you something? I’m good with my assessment thanks. People who are not familiar with the bill that he allegedly helped to kill as his shining accomplishment can look
          It up it was a reasonable bi-partisan piece of legislation that proposed to allow people living here illegally to apply for amnesty pay back taxes and undergo criminal background checks while also significantly increasing border security. Of course Ted hated it but President Trump wouldn’t have signed it so apparently Ted is even more ineffective than I had thought

        • Thomas Sullivan

          Hey genius, the ‘Gang of 8’ bill passed the Senate. Cruz had nothing to do with it’s dying in the House.

          The reality is that Boehner was bringing this bill up for a House vote in June 2014, which means he had the votes. The event that killed the bill was the election of Dave Brat over House leadership member Eric Cantor. All the RINO’s got scared and bailed, thereby ending the ‘Gang of 8’ bill. Boehner was forced to kill it.

          • BreezerMom

            Skip to 5:08 to hear Jeff Sessions credit Ted Cruz for preventing the passage of Gang of 8 bill. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umhneqW41Ig

          • Thomas Sullivan

            Yes, Jeff is a politician supporting his colleague. Is there something you don’t understand about the Gang of 8 bill overwhelmingly passing the Senate? Do you think Senators have a vote in the House?

            The fact is that the gang of 8 bill was coming to the House floor in June 2014 with the votes. that fact is not refutable despite all the political rhetoric you wish to spin.

            Again, it was only pulled because Dave Brat primaried house leadership member Eric Cantor which shook up the RINO’s.

        • Mayday-USSTrump-Mayday

          Cruz is less of an instrument, more of a tool. Sort of like your sock puppet account

    • Thomas Sullivan

      Like when Cruz filibustered against Obamacare all night and then voted to fund it in the morning? To each his own, but Freshman Senator Cruz is all rhetoric with no accomplishments.

  • BreezerMom

    What does Stefano de Stefano support?? “I’m for a complete overhaul of the immigration system. The process needs to be safe, secure, streamlined, simple, and short. We owe it to the job creators in Texas who rely on seasonal and advanced workers to fuel business.
    We owe it to our communities to help undocumented families get out from the shadows and openly-contributing to this country.” Sounds like amnesty to me.