This Land Is Your Land. Now What?

George P. Bush
George P. Bush

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst did it, Garry Mauro tried and couldn’t, and now former state Sen. Jerry Patterson is trying.

The theory that being elected Texas land commissioner can serve as a launching pad toward higher profile and more powerful positions has gained traction again after George P. Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the grandson and nephew to the 41st and 43rd presidents, respectively, decided to run for the position earlier this year.

That came after Patterson, who has been in that post since 2003, decided to challenge Dewhurst for presiding officer of the Texas Senate.

The only Democrat eyeing the post so far is former El Paso Mayor John Cook, who presided over that city’s council in its weak-mayor system from 2005 to 2013. But despite having eight years of experience in that post to Bush’s zero days in public office, Cook is considered an underdog for the statewide post.

Bush has already been called “47” in some circles because of his famous surname. His mother is Mexican, a plus in a state with a growing Hispanic population being heavily courted by the state’s GOP. And at 37, he has time to learn. He’s also particularly adept at raising money — he had more than $4 million as of last summer — and he’s a Navy veteran.

But Bush is content to not look too far ahead, according to people who know him and his politics.

“George P.’s commitment level to this particular office has been really complete and unwavering,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak.

Analysts say the position isn’t as well-defined as agriculture commissioner or comptroller, whose responsibilities are better known. The land commissioner’s office manages revenue for public schools that is earned from the sale, lease or use of the state’s public lands; is charged with various environmental protections; and oversees a host of veterans’ affairs and energy issues.

It’s also less volatile. Polarizing issues like immigration, abortion and ethics aren’t common points of contention on the trail. That could allow Bush, should he win his current bid and decide to seek another office, to gain favor among moderate voters less focused on those red-meat issues. But Mackowiak said that’s not the reason Bush chose this race.

“He may be tagged as a young man in a hurry, but I am not concerned at all he has some grand or specific timeline,” he said.

That could also be due to timing. If the Republicans keep their stronghold on statewide offices, Mackowiak said, it’s unlikely an interparty battle would emerge in four — or possibly eight — years.

Richard D. Pineda, the associate director of the Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, said Cook’s aspirations may be due, in part, to a desire to add to a legacy.

“I think what he wants to do is bigger position, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be statewide,” he said. “But I think that for somebody that has done what he’s done and for somebody at his age, I think you start to look for legacy projects and you look for things where your imprint is going to be much larger and something that people can point back to.”

Being from far West Texas, Pineda added, is a hurdle for Cook, who is also a veteran.

"His base of support is obviously El Paso County, and in El Paso County, you’re not going to get a lot of people who understand the significance of that role,” he said. “I think what all these things end up highlighting is the lack of El Paso’s political capital on the state landscape, and ultimately that to me is the issue.”