AUSTIN - Could this city not be the capital of Texas?
That's the assertion that Elizabeth Ames Jones, chair of the Texas Railroad Commission, makes in a newly filed request for Attorney General Greg Abbott to resolve a nagging issue in her campaign for the Texas Senate.
Jones is asking because one of her two GOP primary election opponents, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, has accused Jones of moving her residence to San Antonio from Austin last fall so she could run against him in a district that includes San Antonio and South Austin. Before she announced for the state Senate, Jones was a candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Under the Texas Constitution, members of the Railroad Commission, along with other statewide elected officials, are required to live in the "capital of the State."
"While this provision may seem straightforward at first glance, its meaning is unclear," Jones said in her request this week for an attorney general's opinion on the matter.
"The drafters of the Constitution were capable of prescribing the location of the ‘capital of the state' but did not do so.
"If a statewide official lives in Rollingwood or Westlake, is he living ‘at the Capital of the State'? What about Pflugerville or Round Rock? Or, perhaps, Kyle, San Marcos, New Braunfels or San Antonio?"
She didn't mention El Paso.
In the request letter, Jones lays out a lengthy legal argument contending that the residency requirement does not apply to railroad commissioners.
Further, she says in the letter, statewide elected officials can have more than one residence - an assertion that, if true, would allow her to keep her $115,000-a-year Railroad Commission job.
Not so, counters Wentworth, who has charged that Jones is no longer qualified to be a railroad commissioner if she doesn't live in Austin.
"You've got to pick one or the other and she picked to run against me," Wentworth said of her choice to declare a residence in San Antonio as her home.
Travis County property records show Jones and her husband own a house in Tarrytown, where they receive a homestead exemption. On her filing papers for the U.S. Senate seat, she listed a San Antonio home owned by her late father-in law.
Earlier, she explained it this way: "Our home is in San Antonio, where I was born and raised. We live in the same district that I represented in the Texas House. We also have a house in Austin, but our home is in San Antonio."
Jones served in the Texas House from 2000 to 2005, when Gov. Rick Perry appointed her to the Railroad Commission.
Buck Wood, a noted elections law attorney who once served as the state elections chief, said there should be no confusion because the issue was settled years ago. A February 1957 opinion by Attorney General Will Wilson declared the "capital of the State" to be Austin.
That opinion remains in effect, said Wood, who has worked for Wentworth in the past.
"In my opinion, she's eligible to run for the Senate," he said, "but she no longer is on the Railroad Commission."