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?
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.”