Landgraf says legislature ‘can get muddy and bloody’Native Odessan backs bill to increase natural gas consumption, stabilize prices

Tempered by his experiences on the family ranch south of Fort Stockton, State Rep. Brooks Landgraf is something of an old-fashioned man, more attuned to earlier times than the digital age.
Representing Ector, Andrews, Ward and Winkler counties, he draws a parallel between working on the 16,000-acre Brooks Ranch in Pecos and Brewster counties and representing District 81 in the Texas House of Representatives in Austin.
“My family has been ranching in West Texas for five generations,” said Landgraf, an attorney who specializes in real estate and business transactions at Todd, Barron, Thomason, Hudman & Bedlot. “But it became increasingly clear that it would be difficult to make a living with the drought cycles. I needed another way, and I’d always been fascinated by the rule of law. I got to know lawyers and saw how much they enjoyed their work.
“But deep down in my soul, I consider myself more of a cowboy than a lawyer. My grandfather, Conoly Brooks, taught me how to work cattle, branding and vaccinating as early as 7 or 8, and I still work them two or three times a year. It never escapes me that we’re using more or less the same methods that have been used for generations, getting our hands dirty, working with what God provides and not a whole lot else.
“It’s increasingly rare as we become a more digital society. There’s not a whole lot digital about the cattle business.”
Foreman Hector Sanchez grazes 300 cattle on the ranch, which has no oil. “There might be some, we just haven’t found it,” Landgraf said with a chuckle.
The 35-year-old native Odessan graduated from Permian High School in 1999, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Texas A&M and earned his law degree at St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio. He and his wife Shelby have a 19-month-old daughter. His dad John is a civil engineer. His mom is Beverly, and he has two sisters.
Asked if a representative has to be tough like a cowboy, Landgraf said, “I’ve noticed similarities because you’re working with a rambunctious bunch in both cases, fellow legislators or cattle.
“To an outsider, being a cowboy and a legislator both seem glamorous. But when you’re getting kicked in the shins by an ornery calf and getting mud and blood all over yourself, there is not much glamorous about it. Working in the Texas Legislature is the same way. You work in a nice, pretty building and get your name on the door, but it can get muddy and bloody when you get down to work. We’re working to make a better state for us and future generations, but it can be an ugly process.”
Starting his second two-year term after easily winning a Republican primary challenge by Josh Crawford last year, Landgraf said his work in the 85th Session will involve efforts to fix a deficit of more than $6 billion and pass the Texas Fuels Bill to help stabilize natural gas prices by requiring new state vehicles to burn derivatives, among other features.
“We want to create more of a market for Texas-produced natural gas and more incentives to sell those fuels that could work their way into the private sector,” he said. “With a few exceptions like education and foster care, we’re asking every agency to make a 4 percent across-the-board cut.”
Landgraf said he “was able to keep it cordial” in his race against Crawford, who was backed by Empower Texans in Austin, “because I knew I was in the right and was willing to stand on my record and not let other people’s actions or treatment of me affect who I was.
“Make sure you’re in the right and fight like hell.”
Landgraf said Crawford’s main issue, his 2015 vote to re-elect House Speaker Joe Straus, “has gone away” since four of the 19 members who voted for Rep. Scott Turner of Frisco, including Turner, have left the House and Straus was unanimously re-elected, 150-0, on Jan. 10.
“I’m as conservative as they come in the legislature, pro-Second Amendment, pro-life and pro-jobs and low taxes,” he said. “It seemed peculiar because I have never let one particular issue drive me.”
Landgraf said he strives on the House Energy Resources Committee to maintain stability in the oil and gas industry. “I talked with an executive from a Canadian-based oil company that does business in the Permian Basin, and he went out of his way to thank me and the legislature for creating an environment where they know the rules they have to play by,” he said.
“He said in a tight market where the profit margins are small, they come to the Basin first because there is no uncertainty in the regulatory environment. My goal is to allow this to be a place where people can do business, high-paying jobs can be created and the U.S. can be energy-independent with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking. This is where we can get those hydrocarbons out of the ground.”
Landgraf said he will always be pro-Odessa when an Odessa-versus-Midland issue arises, but he and Midland Rep. Tom Craddick usually “are in lock-step.” He said Craddick, the legislature’s longest-serving member and a former speaker of the House, could work next to Energy Chairman Drew Darby of San Angelo, but he sits by the Odessan so they can confer.
Landgraf said changing the name of the Railroad Commission to the Energy Commission, a long-standing proposal that Craddick opposes, seems ill-conceived in part because a name change could jeopardize a series of favorable U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rulings. “We don’t want to rock that boat unless we have to because it might open the door for the EPA to get back into the state,” he said.
Landgraf said the 16-member West Texas Delegation helped him fund the new academic building of the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center and the new engineering building at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. “We present a united front so West Texas doesn’t get left out of the mix relative to all the big cities,” he said.
“We work together all the time and sometimes get more done, for example, than the 25 delegates from Harris County because we’re so unified. We can be the David to their Goliath and wield more influence than the numbers suggest.”
In addition to Craddick, Darby and himself, Landgraf said, the House’s West Texas Delegation includes Democrat Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez of Eagle Pass and Republicans Stan Lambert of Abilene, John Smithee and Four Price of Amarillo, Ken King of Canadian, J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville, Mike Lang of Granbury, Andy Murr of Junction, Scott Cosper of Killeen, Dustin Burrows and John Frullo of Lubbock, Drew Springer of Muenster and James Frank of Wichita Falls.
Odessa attorney Ron Griffin noted that Landgraf has experience in energy, agriculture and medicine, having served as Medical Center Hospital’s general counsel before Griffin succeeded him. “Brooks has a good reputation as a lawyer, a hard worker who looks out for his clients,” Griffin said.
“He’s one of the more personable guys you will meet, and he is past the stage of being the new guy on the block in Austin. He’s got experience now and will be a lot more effective. He is a West Texas guy who understands what we’re like out here, and I think he’s good for us.”
Oilman Kirk Edwards said he has “seen many different types of people serve for many different reasons in Austin and Washington, but Brooks truly seems to want to make his district better.
“We’re blessed with Brooks’ being young in years, and hopefully he can rise to the more senior positions and serve us for many years,” Edwards said. “It’s a sacrifice for somebody with his pedigree to do this. That’s what makes him such a strong leader for our area.”
Austin software salesman Kenneth Mills was in the A&M Corps of Cadets with Landgraf and was his roommate when they were seniors, playing trumpet in the band while Landgraf played trombone. “Brooks is a stand-up guy who is as he seems,” said Mills, an Alpine native.
“Starting when we were freshmen, he was always the representative for the class, making sure everybody was taken care of and that nobody was left out on a given topic. When there was a disagreement in the class or Corps, he would negotiate a good outcome. He was the scholastics officer and made sure everybody was studying what they should. He has that quick personal connection with people.”
Asked if there is a sense of history in the House, Landgraf said, “A large part of our identity today was forged at the Battle of San Jacinto by Sam Houston and his army with their battle cry, ‘Remember the Alamo!’
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without that, so it’s important to remain mindful of what some of the catalysts for the State of Texas are. That spirit of 1836 is something I never want to lose because we don’t want to become like any other state.
“I’m proud to be from Odessa. I went to Gonzales Elementary and Nimitz Junior High, and it’s a source of pride to go to the Capitol and be the voice for my district. Driving away, I always catch myself looking back at that beautiful building. The minute I look at that dome and don’t get goose bumps, it will be time to walk away.”