AG Candidate Barry Smitherman Discusses Energy, Border Security, and the 2nd Amendment (Video Interview)

Smitherman-Price InterviewThe race to replace Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is now running to be Governor of Texas, is certainly becoming one of the most interesting races for Republican voters in the 2014 Primary. It is imperative that we select an Attorney General for Texas who is well-equipped to take on an increasingly over-reaching federal government and protect the liberty and economy of Texas and Texans. One of the candidates for this position is the current chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, Barry Smitherman from Houston, Texas.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Chairman Smitherman to discuss his current role as chairman of the Railroad Commission and the impact of that position on the Texas economy. We also discussed the problem of border security along the Texas/Mexico border and the threat to civil liberties regarding federal attacks on the 2nd Amendment. A full transcript of this interview can be found at the bottom of the page after this article concludes. Following the transcript is a section where you can comment or ask additional questions.

I was surprised to learn, after talking with Smitherman, that Texas currently employs about a half-million people in mining, oil & gas, and natural gas industries. Of course, almost all of these are great paying jobs, and that is why they are the focus of Obama's attack on Texas and other energy-producing states.

One of the problems facing these people and companies in the past was the time it takes to get permits to engage in their business activities. Smitherman explained, "When I came to the Railroad Commission two years ago, I was really frustrated with how long it took to get a permit through the process. It was taking up to five months to get an oil and gas drilling permit, up to five years to get a permit to mine coal. That’s just too long."

Smitherman has taken action to address the frustration and cost of these time delays. "We now have gotten that down to five days on the oil and gas permitting side," Smitherman noted. "We took the mining permitting from five years to less than a year. My goal is to get it down to six months. And that’s by putting the right people in the right seats, empowering them to do their job, giving them better technology, and making it a priority."

Smitherman at Texas Young Republican Conf

Barry Smitherman speaks to Texas Young Republicans in Austin

The next Attorney General of Texas will have to step into many lawsuits currently in process where Texas is suing the federal government on issues related to energy production (among other things). Smitherman explained he is already involved in this process. As Chairman of the Railroad Commission, Smitherman explained he is involved as a co-litigant alongside Attorney General Abbott on all seven of the current lawsuits against the federal government related to oil and gas and other Railroad Commission areas of supervision.

"This federal government wants to try to stop the oil and gas industry through regulations that are not grounded in science, but are driven by political agenda," Smitherman said. "So we’ve sued, and when we get in front of a competent court, we almost always win. We’ve had some real successes, and we’ve been able to delay the implementation of some of these boneheaded regulations that would have stopped the oil and gas industry or the mining industry really in their tracks, and with that, stop the job creation and our ability to be energy independent in America."

Smithermans for Life - Austin TexasI asked Chairman Smitherman why he would leave his current position in order to run for Attorney General. He raised some very interesting points in his answer. "General Abbot has done a great job, and they are big shoes to fill, but what we need in this job is a fighter. And a fighter who understands that the oil and gas industry is a critical pillar of our economy," Smitherman began. "We have to prosecute all these cases against the EPA, and the Department of Interior, not only the air-quality regulations that we’ve seen but also efforts like putting a lizard on the endangered species list, a lizard that lives in the Permian Basin, where most of our oil and gas production comes from."

"You need an Attorney General with trial experience," he confidently stated. "I was in the Harris County District Attorney’s office before I began my government service. And you need someone who knows how to lead agencies. As the chairman of the Railroad Commission, which is a 700-person agency, the former chairman of the Public Utility Commission, I am prepared to lead the Attorney General’s office, which is a 4,000-person agency. That kind of leadership is critical." I thought these were very valid points that should be considered by the voters of Texas.

We moved on to the critical issue of Border Security. The federal government has continued to fail to provide adequate security to the Texas/Mexico border. Because Texas is responsible for the safety of Texans, I asked Smitherman what role he thought the Attorney General of Texas' office should play in the battle to protect our residents from the drug cartels, potential terrorists, and others who freely cross our border.

"Bob, this will be a priority of my office," he stated. Smitherman explained he will, "provide our resources [Texas AG resources] to border DA’s and border sheriffs. The Attorney General’s office does not have primary jurisdiction for prosecuting crimes, but we can be brought in to assist a local DA, or we can take over a case if we are so requested."

He said he would make law enforcement along the border aware that his office wants to help them prosecute crimes. "And I mean all crime. Think of it as New York City did with the broken windows prosecution. I don’t care if you’re jaywalking, if you’re trespassing, if you’re littering, much less DWI, assault, any crime, we need to prosecute, because if we can’t deport illegal aliens, we can certainly put the ones that are breaking the law in jail, and send a clear message: if you’re coming to America, you have to obey the law."

I talked to Smitherman about the plight of ranchers and other residents in South Texas where illegal border crossers also cross their land and commit state crimes like trespassing and vandalism. We also talked about the dangers from cattle being released by these criminals onto roadways and other state crimes that are committed in this process. Smitherman explained how he would go about helping.

"We should create a unit that would specialize in assisting local DA’s to prosecute these crimes," Smitherman responded. "You described it perfectly. What happens is someone comes and they cut a fence or they tear down a fence, they go through a pasture, they stop and have a camp, they litter, they leave all of their remains, then they may break the water well, or otherwise damage the property, maybe break into a shed, steal some equipment – those are all state crimes. They all need to be prosecuted. We don’t need to create a new law, the laws are already there. We just need to put people to work on those cases, putting people in jail."

I asked Smitherman to expand on some other issues that he would set as priorities for his new position as Attorney General. He responded by talking about AG Holder's attacks on Texas related to the Voting Rights Act. "One is the Supreme Court’s recent decision on Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Forever, Texas has had to pre-clear our lines any time we redraw our Congressional, Senate, House District lines. The Supreme Court recently said we don’t have to do that anymore."

Price - Smitherman Interview

He continued stating, "Eric Holder has said he will basically ignore that holding and put the resources of the Department of Justice to making sure that we are continuing to do what the Supreme Court says we don’t have to do anymore. So as a result of that, we’re going to have to push back on that significantly."

We closed the interview talking about the 2nd Amendment and the Obama Administration's attack on this fundamental right of American Liberty. "I’m a CHL holder myself," Smitherman explained. "I have great respect for the Second Amendment. It is not a right given to us by government as much as it’s a right given to us by our creator and ourselves."

"This Administration has had an assault on what they call assault rifles, which are just automatic weapons, as well as your ability to carry," he continued. "The laws that we have in our state, which allow for gun shows to be held in county property. The attacks have decreased slightly, but I’m convinced they’re going to come back. With every renewed effort, they’ve tried to get more and more control over our Second Amendment and our right to bear arms. The Second Amendment is the foundation of all of our amendments, and it protects us against not just foreign invaders, but it is designed to be the last line of defense against a tyrannical government."

TexasGOPVote will continue to look at this race as picking our next Attorney General for Texas is critical to the future of the Texas economy and to the liberty of all Texans. Commissioner Smitherman is committed to coming back to TexasGOPVote to discuss more issues in detail.

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW:

Bob Price: Welcome to TexasGOPVote, today we’re talking with the commissioner of the Texas Railroad Commission, Barry Smitherman. Thank you for coming to TexasGOPVote today.

Barry Smitherman: Thank you Bob, glad to be here.

Bob Price: And also I want to make sure everyone knows that you’re one of the candidates for replacing Greg Abbot as the Attorney General of the state of Texas.

Barry Smitherman: That’s right, I am running for Attorney General, now that General Abbot is running for Governor, that office is open and I’m running for it.

Bob Price: I think that that’s very exciting. First what I’d like to touch on with you is, let’s talk a little bit about the Texas Railroad Commission. A lot of people are under a misimpression of what that is all about. It has very little to do with trains, but a lot to do with what’s making Texas a successful economy right now. So tell us what you’ve done as the commissioner of the Railroad Commission.

Barry Smitherman: Well Bob, you’re absolutely correct, the name is misleading. We have nothing to do with railroads, we have in the past, but now we regulate the Texas oil and gas, pipeline, and lignite coal mining industries, and because of our role in issuing permits and inspecting wells, issuing permits for pipeline, inspecting that, and mining, we are helping to create this incredible economy that we have here in Texas. We’re about 500,000, half-a-million Texans are working in the mining, oil and gas industry and those are great-paying jobs, and it’s really driving the economy that we have here in Texas.

Bob Price: It really is a fascinating thing to drive through south Texas right now, and you find a little bitty roadside motel that would normally be 45 or 50 dollars a night, and you’re lucky if you can get a room, and if you can it’s going to be 150 to 200 dollars a night. So, it’s been great for our economy down there. I understand it used to take a long time to get permits and the process of getting through the system was very difficult, and that’s changed now. How have you been involved in fixing that process?

Barry Smitherman: When I came to the Railroad Commission two years ago, I was really frustrated with how long it took to get a permit through the process. It was taking up to five months to get an oil and gas drilling permit, up to five years to get a permit to mine coal. That’s just too long. It’s ridiculous. When we’re standing in the way of industry’s ability to access oil and gas or to mine for coal, we’re stopping job creation and wealth creation, so we made that a priority. We now have gotten that down to five days on the oil and gas permitting side, and we took the mining permitting from five years to less than a year. My goal is to get it down to six months. And that’s by putting the right people in the right seats, empowering them to do their job, giving them better technology and making it a priority.

Bob Price: And the automation process through that has really become involved in cutting that time period. I guess you run into some obstacles from the federal government from time to time, and the current Attorney General spends a lot of time in court with the federal government. What has the Texas Railroad Commission been doing in that?

Barry Smitherman: Presently, the state of Texas has 18 live lawsuits against the federal government, seven of them involve the railroad commission or the energy industry, so I’m a co-litigant with General Abbot on seven of these cases. And primarily it’s because this federal government wants to try to stop the oil and gas industry through regulations that are not grounded in science, but are driven by political agenda. So we’ve sued, and when we get in front of a competent court we almost always win. We’ve had some real successes, and we’ve been able to delay the implementation of some of these boneheaded regulations that would have stopped the oil and gas industry or the mining industry really in their tracks, and with that, stop the job creation and our ability to be energy independent in America. So, nobody likes to sue, but at this point in our history it is one of the last recourses we have to stop the Obama Administration from shutting down the fossil fuel industry.

Bob Price: It’s actually even difficult to get them to follow court orders, as we’ve seen when the Supreme Court declared their off-shore drilling moratorium illegal, unconstitutional. They basically just back-doored their way around it, came back at it and did it again by increasing the regulations on the time it takes to get permits.

Barry Smitherman: This administration is so consumed by their belief in climate change, that that drives all of their policy. So because they have a singular objective, reducing CO2 emissions, they don’t really care what happens when there are job losses. They’re so focused on any activity that emits carbon, which the fossil fuel industry does, it’s carbon-based industry. What they don’t realize is they’re killing the American economy by doing that.

Bob Price: It’s been almost like a war has been declared on Texas, but any of the oil-producing states are going through that as well. The role of the Attorney General of Texas is a critical role for protecting this economy here. General Abbot has done an outstanding job in that respect, and has made a path that’s going to be difficult for anybody else to follow. Why do you want to leave the railroad commission now and become the Attorney General of Texas?

Barry Smitherman: Well General Abbot has done a great job, and they are big shoes to fill, but what we need in this job is a fighter. And a fighter who understands that the oil and gas industry is a critical pillar of our economy. So we have to prosecute all these cases against the EPA, and the Department of Interior, not only the air-quality regulations that we’ve seen but also efforts like putting a lizard on the endangered species list, a lizard that lives in the Permian Basin, where most of our oil and gas production comes from. So you’ve got to fight that. I’ve been in that arena already, fighting those battles. In addition to that, you need an Attorney General with trial experience. I was in the Harris County District Attorney’s office before I began my government service. And you need someone who knows how to lead agencies. As the chairman of the Railroad Commission, which is a 700-person agency, the former chairman of the Public Utility Commission, I am prepared to lead the Attorney General’s office, which is a 4,000-person agency. That kind of leadership is critical.

Bob Price: Now obviously, the AG’s office isn’t just about oil and gas, there’s a lot of other issues which are very important. Border security is a critical problem in Texas, and the governor has provided a lot of assets to the local sheriffs and to the DPS down there, but they’re not always able to prosecute a lot of things that come up down there. As the Attorney General, what would you do to help our border sheriffs and the local district attorneys down there?

Barry Smitherman: Bob, this will be a priority of my office, is to provide our resources to border DA’s and border sheriffs. The Attorney General’s office does not have primary jurisdiction for prosecuting crimes, but we can be brought in to assist a local DA, or we can take over a case if we are so requested. What I want to do is get with the border sheriffs and the border DA’s and tell them, “This is a priority for our office. We want to help you prosecute crime.” And I mean all crime. Think of it as New York City did with the broken windows prosecution. I don’t care if you’re jaywalking, if you’re trespassing, if you’re littering, much less DWI, assault, any crime, we need to prosecute, because if we can’t deport illegal aliens, we can certainly put the ones that are breaking the law in jail, and send a clear message: if you’re coming to America, you have to obey the law.

Bob Price: One of the big problems the ranchers have down there is getting people to enforce trespassing laws. (Barry: Right.) And, it sounds like this would be a good way to help with that. Basically, the drug cartels, or the human smuggling that is going on down there goes right across their land. Used to, they were respectful at least and would come across the land, but now it’s gotten to where they’ll tear out fences, cattle get released out onto the roads, they damage the water tanks, you know, there’s a lot of vandalism that goes on as well. And these are all state crimes (Barry: They are.) and should be prosecuted.

Barry Smitherman: So we should create a unit that would specialize in assisting local DA’s to prosecute these crimes. You described it perfectly. What happens is someone comes and they cut a fence or they tear down a fence, they go through a pasture, they stop and have a camp, they litter, they leave all of their remains, then they may break the water well, or otherwise damage the property, maybe breaak into a shed, steal some equipment – those are all state crimes. They all need to be prosecuted. We don’t need to create a new law, the laws are already there. We just need to put people to work on those cases, putting people in jail.

Bob Price: Human trafficking is another issue that is very bad in Texas, Houston is probably the biggest industry in human trafficking. And it’s not just in the sex industry, but it’s in the construction industry and the restaurant and hospitality industries as well. What can the Attorney General’s office do to strengthen prosecutions on human trafficking cases?

Barry Smitherman: Well, it’s a terrible crime. Any time anyone is forced to do something against their will, that is not only morally wrong but it is against our laws. And so we need to focus in on that as well. It can’t be tolerated. Trafficking of humans, whether it’s sex trade or otherwise, is a despicable crime. It often involves underage people, or people that are the most vulnerable in our society, so we can’t let that go.

Bob Price: And we’ve had a lot of problems here with the local FBI office actually turning away cases, and so if we can get more resources from the state’s AG office, I think that would be a huge help. What other aspects of the Attorney General’s office would you like to talk about that are priority for you, in moving forward in this position should you get elected.

Barry Smitherman: Well defending a couple of things that are high priority to me will be very important. One is the Supreme Court’s recent decision on Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Forever, Texas has had to preclear our lines any time we redraw our Congressional, Senate, House District lines. The Supreme Court recently said we don’t have to do that anymore. We are not the same state that we were fifty years ago. That’s incredibly important, and yet Eric Holder has said he will basically ignore that holding and put the resources of the Department of Justice to making sure that we are continuing to do what the Supreme Court says we don’t have to do anymore. So as a result of that, we’re going to have to push back on that significantly. The Democrats love the Democrats when it rules in their favor , like on Obamacare, but when it comes in our favor, they discredit it. The other thing I’m really worried about is the Second Amendment. This Administration has had an assault on what they call assault rifles, which are just automatic weapons, as well as your ability to carry. The laws that  we have in our state, which allow for gun shows to be held in county property. The attacks have decreased slightly, but I’m convinced they’re going to come back. With every renewed effort, they’ve tried to get more and more control over our Second Amendment and our right to bear arms. The Second Amendment is the foundation of all of our amendments, and it protects us against not just foreign invaders, but it is designed to be the last line of defense against a tyrannical government.  

Bob Price: In respect to the Second Amendment, the United Nations passed the UN Arms Control Treaty here recently. The United States has yet to sign that treaty nor submit it to Congress for ratification, but General Abbott has pledged that if that had happened, that President Obama signed the Treaty and the Senate somehow passed it, which I don’t think it would pass in the Senate, that he would file a lawsuit against the federal government for basically allowing a Treaty to usurp the Second Amendment. Would you commit to doing that as well?

Barry Smitherman: Absolutely. I’m a CHL holder myself. I have great respect for the Second Amendment. It is not a right given to us by government as much as it’s a right given to us by our creator and ourselves. The framers of the Constitution were inspired, I’m convinced by God, in writing the Bill of Rights, and so it is not up to a foreign government to tell us what we can and cannot do. The Second Amendment is the foundation of our rights, and it can’t be taken away by treaty.

Bob Price: Unfortunately, at this day and time, it’s not just the Second Amendment that’s under attack by the federal government. You’ve got the First Amendment, the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, and certainly the Tenth Amendment has been literally destroyed by this government. So it’s going to take an Attorney General who’s willing to stand up, that fire in the belly, and I’ve heard you talk about this in other meetings, and I’ve seen that fire, so I’m glad to say I think if Barry Smitherman was the Attorney General, we would have that.

Barry Smitherman: Absolutely, Bob. I grew up on the east side of Houston. You come out of their as a fighter by nature. I worked my way through Texas A&M and University of Texas School of Law, and I’ve gotten knocked down a couple of times in my career, and I’ve always gotten back up, gotten back in the fight. The fact that I’ve sued Obama and his Administration seven times already, I’m willing to take that prosecution forward.  I’m a skilled lawyer, having spent time in the Harris County DA’s office, and what I want to create is a Texas that will be a place of prosperity and freedom regardless of what happens to the rest of the United States, and that way we know that in Texas, you can come here. We may be the last best hope for freedom on Earth, but we have to maintain this for our children and grandchildren.

Bob Price: Well Commissioner, thank you very much for taking the time to come talk with TexasGOPVote .

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