George P. Bush, son of a former governor and the grandson and nephew of former U.S. presidents, is ready to get into the family business.
He has never run for election, but he is building a campaign for statewide office in Texas in 2014 — most likely, he says, for land commissioner.
Bush, who co-founded the Hispanic Republicans of Texas political action committee, is a graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. He also served in the U.S. Navy before founding St. Augustine Partners, a Fort Worth-based investment firm where he still works.
He recently talked with The Texas Tribune about his plans and about the state of conservatives in Texas.
Here's an abridged transcript of that interview.
TT: What are your plans?
Bush: We, right now, are visiting with donors and supporters throughout the state. Really, at the outset, the idea was to explore the opportunity to run for office. Through this process, to explore the offices that may or may not be opening. I’m sure you’re following the discussions regarding the governor and the attorney general and all their respective plans. We’ve approached this really focusing on what my skill sets are, what my team’s abilities are, and how they can benefit the state of Texas best. I’ll be open and say that we’re leaning toward the land commissioner position, but we haven’t officially filed for that office. Our intent is to have more definition of where we stand at the end of the legislative session but, you know, for the next six months, to continue to visit with donors who are active in the party to get ready in terms of which office and which opportunity.
TT: There’s a particular office that’s attractive to you?
Bush: Yes, I would say it’s the land office. After visiting with activists, supporters, advisers, I think the fact that I come from an asset management background is an excellent skill set to have as the chief asset manager for the state of Texas, in dealing with the Permanent School Fund, the school board fund, the land fund. Being both a business guy in asset management and being an attorney is a good background skill set to approach the office. Secondly, you’re head of veterans affairs, and I’d be the only veteran Enduring Freedom looking at statewide offices currently. I think I can speak more forcefully on these issues than anybody who’s looking at this office.
Additionally, on a day-to-day basis, talking to advisers, the advice has been that you really should run for an office that you’re passionate about, and it has been flattering to have my name floated for everything from governor to ag commissioner. But frankly, at this moment, at this point of our due diligence, the land office would be that office where I’d wake up and feel passionate about it. I think voters see that, that taxpayers see that, and more importantly, that you guys in the capital would recognize that. That’s the current thinking right now.
TT: Have you always wanted to get into the family business?
Bush: I like to tell people my first memory was when my grandfather announced he was running for president at Memorial Park [in Houston] in 1979. I was 3 years old and holding a balloon and wearing a "George Bush for President" shirt, so it’s hard not to be drawn to politics. In my own professional career, I’ve tried to establish my own identity and my own track record so that if I were to entertain a run for office, there would be my own track record for voters to look at.
I think in this cycle, we were planning to file regardless of what happened in November, but I think it further highlighted the need for younger Republicans that can message in the Hispanic community. Also, having a business background and a military background helps as well. I think it provides a different perspective in Austin as well. If you look at the average age of our statewide elected officials, it exceeds 62 years and the average length of service is over 22 years. Republican or Democrat, I think it’s time for folks in my generation to step up and get involved in public service.
TT: Assess the Republican environment in Texas right now and where it’s going. Is the party split?
Bush: I analogize it to the Great Reformation, where you have outside forces that reform a body or an institution. I think there are definitely some positive effects that are taking place within the party because of the Tea Party, increased grassroots activism, increased attention and concerns with respect to what’s happening in Washington, D.C. Especially from a fiscal perspective, when you look at Ted Cruz’s positions and you look, increasingly, at Sen. [John] Cornyn’s position on the debt ceiling, that this ideology has a lot to offer. Now, we can get into certain candidates and certain issues that the Tea Party has presented, but overall, there is an emerging brand of elected official that can navigate both aspects of the party. I’ve always held the position that they can both peacefully coexist. I think our candidacy, in a unique way, is able to navigate both. Obviously, with my party activism over the years, I am a mainstream conservative Republican. But I have endorsed Tea Party officials running, from Matt Krause, who’s joined the state House, to Ted Cruz early on in his race. So it is an interesting relationship. It wouldn’t be the first time that either Republicans or Democrats have to build multiple coalitions to work together. That’s the new Republican Party, if you will, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
TT: Has too much been made of Hispanic politics in Texas?
Bush: The demographic estimates and numbers really highlighted this issus. But in the state of Texas, we’re at a point where this is more of a long-term issue. Much has been made of the fact that the state of Texas will be majority Hispanic in less than five years. The voting percentage among Latinos is not commensurate with those percentages. So electorally speaking, we have, as Hispanics, a long way to go before we’re a significant prize in that respect. It’s important as a party, from a demographic imperative, to reach out. But I think from a moral perspective, there is a congruence between the ideology of the community and the party.
This is something I feel passionate about, with the Hispanic Republicans of Texas, and helping found that, and helping the Texas Republican Party with their efforts. We’ve been more tactical. But in the grand scheme of things, this session, in terms of state politics, is really going to dictate what the ’14 election cycle looks like. Dealing with more practical matters, such as education, water, transportation, actual highways, toll roads and putting together a budget that can actually stay within what the comptroller has outlined for the state in the next two years.
TT: Does the continuing debate over immigration interrupt that conversation between Republicans and Hispanics in Texas?
Bush: I look at it as an opportunity. The fact that we are leaders in the party lets us actually engage the Hispanic community on this issue. When you’re talking about the U.S. Congress, for instance, picking up this issue right after fiscal cliff and grand bargain issues, these Republicans can actually be a party of reform and create some interesting ideas in drafting this bill as opposed to being a party of no.
Here in the state of Texas, people never forget Jerry Patterson giving a passionate speech about inserting in the party platform language that would provide for some form of reform or even a guest-worker program that would allow for undocumenteds to come out of the shadow and pay their fair share in line like everyone else but participate in our society. I’m excited that instead of hiding in the corner about this, that we can lead. I would also state that, if you look at the polling data, it’s curious: It shows you that, among Hispanics here in Texas, it’s kitchen-table issues, really, that stand out. So everything from education reform to jobs and economic security, you name it, that’s really at the top of the mind. Immigration, yes, has been a wedge issue, but I think we can lead on it and propose reforms that are actually part of the solution.
TT: How do you get from here to there? How do you go forward for the next six months and into the 2014 elections?
Bush: Our idea is to take a page out of Ted Cruz’s playbook and engage the grassroots and the activists within the party throughout the state. We will be posting our [fundraising] number next week, and it will reflect the vast amount of support that we’re receiving. During the session, we intend to opine on some of the big issues that the state will face in the session, continue to engage subject matter experts that are intricately involved with the [General Land Office], ranging from water rights to eminent domain, asset management issues, veterans’ affairs. As you can probably appreciate, running a statewide campaign is more than just hanging a shingle and raising money. You have to get folks and activists to buy into our vision and help us spread the message. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we’ve got a significant advantage in that everyone else will be consumed with the session and unable to raise any money.
[Editor's note: An earlier version contained a transcription error, now corrected, in Bush's comments on immigration.]