The Texas land commissioner on running for lieutenant governor (in an election that's three years off), water and education and other issues facing the state and his potential foes — especially Comptroller Susan Combs.
Jerry Patterson, the state's land commissioner, quickly tossed his hat into the 2014 race for lieutenant governor when Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced he would be running for the U.S. Senate next year. In an interview this week with the Tribune, Patterson talked about getting in so early, why he ought to get the job, the issues at play and his potential opponents, Comptroller Susan Combs and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.
Video excerpts and an edited transcript follow.
TT: Why's everyone jumping into this race so early?
Patterson: Well, time is money and money is time. It takes a fair amount of resources to run statewide and, therefore, that's what we're doing. You've go to start early, let people know what you're doing. If you let them know what you're doing, they're going to make a decision one way or the other. If you're just kind of, "Well, I'm not sure," they're not going to be helping. Kay Bailey [Hutchison saying] "I'm leaving the Senate," followed by Dewhurst saying, "Yes, that's what I'm going to do" — that precipitated my statement that I'd follow that man anywhere, since I followed him to the land office. … I'm running for the lieutenant governor in 2014. Actually, I'm running for lieutenant governor in 2011 — that's your point.
TT: Are people ready to talk about it?
Patterson: Maybe in the last month they've gotten ready to talk about it, because it's definite that David is running for the Senate. They know there's going to be a vacancy, and so the interest is piqued substantially.
TT: What kind of reception are you getting?
Patterson: I get one of two things. "It's too early — call me back later" or "Yeah, you're the guy." I think that's in part because I'm a pretty well-known commodity, or in spite of the fact that I'm a pretty well-known commodity. We're getting a very positive reception. It is almost two and a half years before you file, but I'm working hard at it every day.
TT: What's the case for Patterson as lieutenant governor?
Patterson: I'm 65 years old. At the end of this term, I'll be 68. That would give me two terms as lite guv, ending at 76. I wouldn't be running for anything else. That would be my last office. I think we really do need some bold, fearless leadership at present, somebody who's not concerned about their next office, and I'd be in the same position [Bob] Bullock was. I know all the stories about Bob Bullock when he was drinking and shooting up beer joints and all that stuff, but I knew him in the years he was lieutenant governor, and he truly had only one interest — and that was doing what was best for Texas. ... I think I'm in the same position he was during '93 to '99, when I served with him in the Senate.
TT: Why do you think we need a particular kind of leadership?
Patterson: There's all kinds of leadership. There's leadership from folks who are fearful and those who are not. I'm in the latter category, and there's a lot of issues that we're not talking about. One major issue, and this is probably the time to talk about it, is water. [In the] Republican primary, we're going to talk about immigration, we're going to talk about being groped at the airport, we're going to talk about guns, we're going to talk about pro-life, pro-choice. Those things are important and I have definitive positions on all of those. But we need to talk about water. We need to talk about education. We need to talk about how we can do this, and we need somebody who can also be capable of selling a viewpoint even if that viewpoint is initially not popular or well received. I'll give you an example of how I've done that in the past, and that's the home equity lending constitutional amendment — that would not have passed were it not for Jerry Patterson. That was a property rights issue in my book, and it was mischaracterized as repeal of the homestead exemption. It had nothing to do with homestead exemption. It took somebody who would step out there, take the heat, take the grief. And, similarly, the concealed handgun passage. When I carried it, no one else wanted to. We passed it, in spite of every editorial board in the state of Texas saying it would be "wild, wild West" shootouts at every four-way stop and blood in the streets, and of course, none of that happened. That's why I mean by saying bold.
TT: What do you think we need to do with education?
Patterson: The big problem today is public ed, K through 12. And it's a matter of funding, but it's not necessarily a matter of more funding — it's a matter of appropriate funding. We have this byzantine educational finance system. I don't understand it — I will understand it — but anything that has evolved has evolved to something that's not functional. Can I tell you that I have the answer? No, I can't. But I can tell you that I'm not afraid to talk about the answers that might be suitable for public ed. We've done a really good job in Texas of creating jobs. Everybody knows that. That's part of the presidential campaign right now. But we need to focus on those jobs that allow people to buy a home, to move it up a notch, and to move it up a notch with focus on community colleges and skill sets that you don't get by a four-year degree. A lot of emphasis on four-year degrees [is] great, but we need people with skills, and I think community colleges are a big part of the education solution.
TT: When you talk about water, what are you talking about?
Patterson: How do we get the water we have in the place we need to have it? That requires leadership to talk about junior water rights, the inter-basin transfers conundrum, the use of groundwater. We've got enough water — it's just not in the right place. And we have this water plan and the creation of these groundwater districts, and the groundwater districts have no correlation to the aquifers. If you were to plot those things on the same map, they're totally unrelated. We've got this resource that's not being managed well. So we need to talk about groundwater. I don't envision we're going to have a whole lot more reservoirs, so groundwater is what we're going to have to start looking at, along with conservation. Do we all need a St. Augustine plantation? I don't think we do.
TT: Is this a case where the state is going to have to spend some money?
Patterson: The public is going to have to spend the money — anytime the state spends money, they're spending the public's money. They've got a constitutional amendment on the ballot that's a good one, that gives flexibility for bonding authorization to the Texas Water Development Board. You know, the taxpayers of Texas, if they know they're getting good value for the dollar, are willing to do certain things — whether it's some way of financing that bond, servicing that bonded indebtedness. But, again, it takes someone to lead. It takes somebody who can sell. I'm the person who can lead and sell. We'll talk about how to finance the water. This is a good time to talk about it. Look around Central Texas and tell me this is not a good time to talk about water. Look at all the subdivision development and all these needs. We have 1,000 people per day net population increase in Texas. How are we going to find water for them? We need to talk about it.
TT: Talk about energy a little bit. Talk me through an energy plan.
Patterson: An energy plan is a multiple choice in which there's not one good answer. Continued aggressive development of hydrocarbons, both onshore and offshore, and we're blessed in Texas with hydrocarbons. Today, we're blessed that things that are in fields that were unproducible have become producible. Doing what we've always done is good. It's also got a component of, where it's economic, doing renewable energy. Right now, wind power is not as economic because natural gas is $4; natural gas at $6? $7? Wind power is cheaper, and with the development of some of the coastal wind, that's even better. Coastal wind blows during the daytime. Peak demand is during the daytime. Coastal wind has great value. Coastal wind is near the load centers: Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Corpus, Brownsville. Geothermal has potential in Texas. Solar is a little ways down the road — it's not economic. You couple that with nuke, I want to say clean coal — that'll start an argument. They'll say there's no such thing as clean coal, but we have to do all of the above, coupled with conservation. People are aware of conservation now more than they have ever been before — particularly water right now — so it's a multi-faceted answer. It's not picking one over the other.
TT: Size up your opposition.
Patterson: Susan … I don't know whether it's hubris, chutzpah or hallucination, but the problems she has make her the most vulnerable. If there's any statewide Republican nominee that would be vulnerable, it would be Susan Combs. When you have a leadership position, whether it's elective or appointed, you're responsible for what happens even if you didn't contribute to the good or the bad outcome. And that data breach is pretty dramatic. That, and the recent flip-flop on the pro-life, pro-choice issue — after 20 years of being pro-choice, she's now pro-life. The other question is, is she running for lieutenant governor? In a Texas Tribune interview, she said it's way too early to talk about another office, while at the same time, for several months prior to that time, she's going around raising money saying, "I'm going to run for lieutenant governor." I don't think that's the transparency that she tries to be known for. There's lots of issues there and they happened on her watch. The impulsiveness on the F-1 — making a commitment for the F-1, $25 million a year for 10 years, without going through the protocol of the City of Austin even agreeing that that's what they wanted to do. I don't think that's somebody who's well reasoned and thoughtful enough to lead the Senate. But the data breach is a biggie. There are three and a half million people who got a letter saying their data may have been exposed. This will be for an opponent — whether it's a Republican primary opponent or a Democratic general election opponent — the gift that keeps on giving. At some point in your public life, you need to stop and think, "Is it about me, or is it about those that I wish to serve? And is it about moving up to the next higher office, or is it about putting Texas and the Republican Party ahead of my personal political future?" I think that's a gut check that needs to occur in the not-too-distant future. It's something that I think Texans who write large checks should know about, because the public will know about it in election time.
TT: Would you support her for another term as comptroller?
Patterson: That would be a good question. First, I would have to find out who's running against her. I do know that here at the Land Office, we have frequent calls from folks that work at the comptroller's office seeking another place of employment. We need someone who will lead, take the hits when they come and provide a little bit of vision and salesmanship. I'm not sure that that resides in our current officeholder at the comptroller's office.
TT: What about that other guy?
Patterson: Todd [Staples] is a good man. He'd be a good lieutenant governor — not quite as good as me. I will not hold his youth and inexperience against him. I want to use that line. I hope he sets me up on that.
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