Rep. Mike Conaway (R)
Texas 11th District
More than 400 years ago, in the 1540s, the conquistador Francisco Coronado and his men rode their horses over the plains of the land they called the Llano Estacado, or “flat palisades,” land that is now the plains of West Texas. They saw a vast empty land, gradually and imperceptibly rising in elevation to the west, with only scrub vegetation and small bands of Comanche Indians. What they did not see, lying far beneath the surface, was oil, discovered in the 1940s in large amounts in the Permian Basin. When oil was found, two tiny county seats 25 miles apart suddenly became small cities—Odessa, home of the roughneck oil well workers, and Midland, the more upscale town where oil entrepreneurs lived and started their own Petroleum Club. The Permian Basin boomed in the years just after World War II. In 1940, Ector and Midland counties had a population of 26,000. By 1960, they had grown to 159,000. Midland in the 1950s was an affluent town by west Texas standards, but hardly a luxurious town. Air conditioning had not yet become standard in homes or schools, and there were no mansions at the edge of town, just barren desert and oil derricks. George and Barbara Bush moved to the Permian Basin in 1948 in search of success in the oil industry and room for a growing family. They rented houses in Odessa before upgrading to a series of larger, but by no means grand, ranch houses in Midland.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Since then, growth has slowed, as new discoveries have grown fewer, but the area still yields about 80% of the state’s oil and 30% of its gas. Midland’s unemployment rate in 2008 was among the lowest in the nation following the oil-price boom, but the familiar boom-and-bust fears pervaded as the subsequent price drop quickly led to the closing of dozens of rigs. Republican President George W. Bush and his wife Laura, also from Midland, came here immediately after leaving Washington, D.C. in January 2009, and enjoyed a local reception as warm as their Washington departure was chilly.
The 11th Congressional District of Texas covers much of West Texas and encompasses 36 counties. The district sweeps 400 miles across much of the state, beginning in the hills of fast-growing Burnet County just north of Austin and Gillespie County, home to Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. To the west is oil-producing Loving County, on the New Mexico border. With 55 people in 2007, it was the least populous county the United States. Geographically the district is larger than 12 states; 54% of the population is in Midland, Ector and Tom Green (San Angelo) counties. None of the other counties have more than 39,000 people. The district’s Hispanic population is 33% and poverty is a bit above the national average, but no longer as pervasive as when Lyndon Johnson was a kid.
Politically, West Texas in the 1940s was, like nearly every other part of Texas, almost totally Democratic. That began to change in the 1950s as Midland moved toward Republicans. Newcomers like the Bushes were an important part of this trend. The current 11th District is overwhelmingly Republican, and the first district in which Midland and Odessa have been dominant. In 2004, the 11th District cast 78% of its votes for Bush, his highest percent in the nation. In 2008, John McCain did almost as well. His 75% was his fifth-best district in the nation.
Rep. Mike Conaway (R)
Elected: 2004, 3rd term.
Born: June 11, 1948, Borger .
Education: E. TX St. U., B.B.A. 1970.
Family: Married (Suzanne); 4 children.
Military career: Army, 1970-72.
Elected office: Midland Schl. Bd., 1985-88.
Professional Career: Tax mgr., Price Waterhouse & Co., 1972-80; CFO, Keith G. Graham, 1980-81; CFO, Lantern Petroleum Comp., 1981; CFO, Arbusto Energy Inc./Bush Exploration Comp., 1982-84; CFO, Spectrum 7 Energy Corp., 1984-86; CFO, United Bank, 1987-90; Sr. VP, TX Comm. Bank, 1990-92; Board member, TX Bd. of Pub. Accountancy, 1995-2002, Chmn., 1997-2002; Owner, K. Michael Conaway, CPA, 1993-2004.
The congressman from the 11th District is Mike Conaway, a Republican first elected in 2004. Conaway grew up in Odessa and graduated from East Texas State University, before it became known as Texas A&M-Commerce. He worked as a certified public accountant for, among others, George W. Bush, and was chief financial officer in Arbusto/Bush Exploration during the 1980s. After Bush became governor, he named Conaway to the state Board of Public Accountancy, and Conaway later chaired the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. In May 2003, he finished second in the all-party special primary election in the old 19th District, which included nearly half of the new 11th. In June, he lost by fewer than 600 votes in a hard-fought runoff with Republican Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock, who later won the seat.
|Mike Conaway (R)||189,625||(88%)||($951,802)|
|John Strohm (Lib)||25,051||(12%)|
|Mike Conaway (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (100%), 2004 (77%)
After state Republicans pushed through a new redistricting plan that October, Conaway was the obvious frontrunner for this seat. Democratic Rep. Charles Stenholm, who represented much of the area in the old 17th District, decided to run against Neugebauer in the new 19th District. Conaway’s Republican primary opponent was Bill Lester, a political science professor who campaigned against Bush’s proposed guest worker program. Lester called for the militarization of the border with helicopter patrols to stop illegal immigration. Conaway, a supporter of the Bush immigration proposal, said that increased documentation would strengthen national security by separating “those who are seeking economic opportunity” from “those who would do us harm.” Conaway won 75%- 25%, carrying 33 of the 36 counties and losing only in the eastern part of the district. In the general election, he won easily, 77%-22%.
Conaway has a solidly conservative voting record and wasn’t shy about touting his relationship with Bush. “I believe I will be more effective if the president knows my first name than if he didn’t,” he told his hometown newspaper after he took office. Their relationship paid dividends for Bush. Conaway, who voted against the original $700 billion bailout of the financial services industry in October 2008, voted for the final version after Bush called him to urge his support. Conaway led opposition in 2008 to a bill to require radio stations to pay royalties for playing music, arguing that many small stations might not survive.
In 2007, Conaway, a certified public accountant, joined the executive committee of the National Republican Congressional Committee to take charge of auditing. He uncovered an internal fraud scheme by the committee’s longtime treasurer, who had embezzled almost $1 million. In January 2009, he sought a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee but was unsuccessful. However, as ranking Republican on the Agriculture specialty crops Subcommittee, he is well-positioned to advocate for local farmers. He has been re-elected without major-party opposition.