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At TribFest, Bush Talks In-State Tuition, Open Beaches

In a wide-ranging interview Friday night at The Texas Tribune Festival, Republican land commissioner candidate George P. Bush discussed a state law granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants and a controversial court case on the Texas Open Beaches Act.

Land Commissioner candidate George P. Bush listens to an Evan Smith question at TribFest on Sept. 19, 2014

Republican land commissioner nominee George P. Bush said Friday night at The Texas Tribune Festival that "until there’s a sensible alternative that has been presented by anybody else," he would support a Texas law that grants in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. That position is at odds with the state Republican Party platform, which calls for repealing it. 

In the wide-ranging interview with Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith, Bush also discussed his support for a landmark Texas Supreme Court decision that says the state's Open Beaches Act may not apply if a hurricane or big storm wipes out the public part of a beach. That reflects a disagreement with current Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor, also blasted the court ruling in 2010.

Citing a report from the comptroller's office, Bush said in-state tuition for undocumented students is "really a nominal cost for the state of Texas."

But Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the nephew of former President George W. Bush, added that there needs to be a more workable and permanent solution for immigrants. His comments echoed those of Abbott's gubernatorial campaign. Last October, an Abbott spokesman called the law granting in-state tuition to undocumented students "noble" but "flawed."

Bush's views on the Supreme Court's Severance v. Patterson decision reflected a potential conflict with the view of those of other statewide officials on balancing private property rights — a major tenet of the Tea Party — with public access to Texas beaches, a point of pride in the Lone Star State.

Texas is one of few states in the U.S. that reserve most of their coastlines for public access. In 2009, voters made the state's decades-old Open Beaches Act a part of the Texas Constitution, a move pushed by Patterson.

Bush reiterated on Friday that he "stands behind" the Supreme Court's decision, a point he has made while on the campaign trail.

"I don’t believe that the state should take land in those events," Bush said, noting that the court decision does not make the same judgment for beach that has eroded naturally over time. 

In an interview this week, Patterson disagreed with Bush's view. "If he says he agrees with it, I don't think he understands all the nuances of it," Patterson said. “What ultimately is at stake is the Californication of Texas beaches, where you can own the beach. In Texas, you can’t own the beach. in Texas, the beaches are public.”

Abbott has also criticized the Severance decision, which the court originally handed down in 2010, in a request that the justices rehear the case. (They did, and came up with the same ruling again in 2012.)

"With the stroke of a pen, a divided Court has effectively eliminated the public's rights on the dry beach," Abbott wrote, adding, "It is plain that the majority's disposition suffers from any number of serious flaws leading to an incoherent legal doctrine and devastating consequences for the State and its citizenry."

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