District 81 State Representative-elect Brooks Landgraf takes over where Tryon Lewis leaves off. Andrews, Ector, Winkler, and Ward Counties get a new voice.
By Hanaba Munn Welch
Brooks Frederick Landgraf (R-Odessa), representative-elect for Texas House District 81, is a young new star in the Texas political sky.
Landgraf, a former oil and gas attorney with ranching and mineral interests, is stepping into office with an acceptable pedigree and with values to match the interests of the region—four counties where oil and gas and ranching are what it’s all about and where his own ancestors have long been a part of things.
Landgraf won the Republican primary election in the spring. He doesn’t have an opponent in the general election in September. It’s that kind of district—one where Republicans have held firm sway since 1992, when a legislative reconfiguration formed District 81 from Andrews, Ector, and Winkler counties. (A 2010 reconfiguration expanded the territory, adding Ward County.) Landgraf, who defeated Austin Keith in the primary, is following three-term Rep. Tryon D. Lewis (R-Odessa), who chose not to run again. Lewis’s predecessor was the late George “Buddy” West, (R-Odessa). Lewis defeated West in the 2008 primary; West died in office near the end of his eighth term.
Despite his youth—Landgraf is only 33—the fifth-generation West Texan is seasoned beyond his years. He’s been soaking up politics since his youth, when he trekked across the region with his father, John Landgraf (president of Landraf Crutcher and Associates engineering firm), to attend various city council meetings.
“As a civil engineer, he would work for these towns,” Landgraf said. “I was exposed to the political side of things.”
Not that the young Landgraf knew then he would seek public office.
“I can’t really pinpoint when the exact interest came,” he said. “I was raised in a family that really put an emphasis on public service, regardless of what form. My sisters and I were raised to really give back where and when we could.”
The words make good campaign rhetoric, but Landgraf walks the walk. When he was an attorney in private practice, Legal Aid named him Volunteer of the Year for his pro bono work. He still mentors young adults through the Odessa Teen Court program. Himself an Eagle Scout, he’s been a leader in Boy Scouts of America. He serves on boards—namely, the YMCA Youth and Government state advisory council, Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance board of directors, the Education Foundation board of directors, and the John Ben Shepperd Leadership Institute advisory council. He and his wife, Shelby Levins, volunteer together for Food 2 Kids, Catholic Charities, and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.
As an attorney, Landgraf is currently the chief counsel for Medical Center Health System, the largest health care provider in the Permian Basin. In the context of health care, the Texas Hospital Association political action committee gave him its support during the primary, noting, as one reason for the endorsement, “Landgraf’s commitment to Texas hospitals provides stable ground amid rapid transformation of the health care system.”
Other major endorsements round out the picture of a Permian Basin conservative with requisite support for success:
- Conservative Republicans of Texas
- Texans for Fiscal Responsibility
- Gun Owners of America political victory fund
- Texas Farm Bureau Friends of Agriculture fund
- As a graduate of Texas A&M, he can count on the Aggie network.
“I was in the Corps of Cadets,” he said. “You definitely make some lifelong friends down there.”
In the realm of energy and politics, Landgraf, political science major, was hardly out of college when he found himself in the right place at the right time—Washington, D.C., in 2005—to see the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EP Act—see accompanying box). More than a bystander, Landgraff was a Congressional intern in the office of Joe Barton (R-Ennis), sponsor of the bill and, at the time, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
“I got a really good, firm understanding of oil and gas—as they call it in Washington, energy policy,” said Landgraf, who is a member of the PBPA. “The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was very helpful in allowing us to enjoy the sustained boom that we have right now. It cleared a lot of oil and gas hurdles.”
The bill covers the gamut in its 1,800-plus sections, but Landgraf no doubt would say it’s the oil and gas sections that have proved to be most important, not just to District 81 but to the whole country.
If the bill hadn’t become law?
“We would have a lot more roadblocks than we have right now,” Landgraf said.
In his campaign for office, Landgraf did more than run on his experience as a former oil and gas attorney; he also cited his involvement in seeing the EP Act passed. He counts it as energy policy experience in Washington that forever ties him to vital legislation that has had an overall positive impact on the oil and gas industry.
Landgraf also understands the industry from the perspective of a mineral owner as manager of his own family’s mineral interests.
“I’ve seen it from both sides—three sides,” he said, referring to government, industry, and mineral owner.
“It puts me in a fortunate position,” he said. “We all have to work together if we’re going to provide energy for the world.”
Working together is something Landgraf has learned about in greater measure since last September, when he wed Shelby Levins. He counts her as his Number One campaign worker.
“Shelby was a great advisor, a tough campaigner,” Landgraf said. “I consider her to be the driving force behind the victory.”
As a television journalist and evening anchor for KMID-TV, ABC affiliate station for Midland and Odessa, Levins (who retained her maiden name for professional use) took leave from work to steer clear of any conflicts of interest during the last weeks of the campaign.
“I took vacation and unpaid leave once the polls opened,” she said. “I wanted it to be more than fair.”
It was a working vacation. Levins knocked on door after door, campaigning person-to-person for her husband.
“My heart and all of my thoughts were on the campaign,” she said.
Levins herself has a politician’s knack for meeting and remembering people. As she and Landgraf made their way through the crowd at the West Texas Historical Association banquet in Midland in April (the occasion for their interview with PBOG), Levins encountered J. Tillapaugh, outgoing president of the organization. She remembered the day she knocked on his door in Odessa. Tillapaugh remembered her too, expressing delight to renew his acquaintance with her.
Levins brings to the table not only her talents as a campaigner and her notoriety as a newscaster; she also boasts ties to oil and gas. Woven into her family history is the blue-collar success story of her paternal grandfather, Hollis Levins.
Like many other men of his day, he looked to the oilfield for work.
“The story goes, Mobil was the first door they knocked on,” Levins said.
Mobil hired Hollis Levins, and he stayed with the company, working his way up through the ranks from roustabout and other field work to an office job.
“He was able to provide for his family,” Levins said. “He had a lifelong career with Mobil.”
On Levin’s mother’s side of the family, her uncle is a geologist, now retired from Burlington Resources and working as a consultant.
If Levins makes new friends easily, credit perhaps goes to her father, whose military career took the family from place to place—”Washington State to Germany and several places in between,” she said.
But whatever friends and attachments Shelby Levins made as she grew up across the country and abroad, home base was always West Texas.
“My dad is originally from Andrews,” she said. “It didn’t matter where we lived. We always came home to West Texas and visits in the summer to my grandparents.”
There’s no place like home. For Brooks Landgraf and his bride Shelby Levins, it’s now four counties—Andrews, Ector, Winkler, and Ward—Texas House District 81.
Freelance writer Hanaba Munn Welch writes regularly for PBOG. She maintains a website at www.hanaba.net.