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Analysis: Bush Takes 1 Step Forward, 1 Step Back

The state's new land commissioner is trying to put some points on the political board. He's erasing some, too.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Phillips Entertainment President and CEO Davis Phillips discuss the new proposals to the Alamo District.

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George P. batted .500 last week.

George P. Bush, the state’s elected land commissioner, announced a big step toward cleaning up the ratty carnival atmosphere around the Alamo. It might be the only place in Texas where you can get a good close-up look at the site of a seminal battle in the state’s war for independence from Mexico, and then turn around and see if the folks at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! have a model of a two-headed frog for sale.

And then Bush hit his mental “send” button too fast, comparing the high state position he won a year ago to being a dog catcher. “There's no better experience than getting involved in a presidential race because you truly do absorb so much more information than, say, running for dog-catcher like I did in Texas,” Bush said to a group of his father’s supporters on a conference call, according to the Houston Chronicle.

His father, Jeb, is running for president, barely. The younger Bush was joking about how important that job is, making self-deprecating jokes about his own position. But if it’s really a pissant job, how’d he pull off last week’s hat trick of building purchases at the Alamo?

The younger Bush is establishing his reputation, and he has to promote the General Land Office, too; if it’s important, the guy in charge of it must be important, too. He’s been the state’s land commissioner since January. Millions of Texans have no idea what the land commissioner does. Many don’t care. But some  might have an opportunity to vote for Bush in the future, maybe for some higher office, and he probably wants them to remember him fondly if and when they do so.

He knows he has to tout serious accomplishments that the public might appreciate, like cleaning up the plaza around the Alamo in downtown San Antonio. He could be the guy who corrects the balance of history and kitsch, making an asset of an eyesore and building his Texas bona fides in the process (he’s one of the Florida Bushes, remember).

Bush also jumped into a lawsuit over land on the Texas-Oklahoma border last week, grabbing a rare opportunity to get the land commissioner and an actual land dispute into the same headlines. At issue is the land orphaned by changes in the course of the Red River — the geographic marker of the border between the states.

He hasn't won that skirmish, so it's too early to include it in his batting average, but it is the kind of thing that officeholders are supposed to be doing when they go to work.

In the grand scheme of things, the dog-catcher misstep is small — and a reminder that it’s better to joke about yourself than about your office.

But his wisecrack had an element of truth, which raises the stakes. The land commissioner is a provincial government official — a down-ballot officeholder out here in the boonies. A president is the Leader of the Free World.

So Bush had a point. But it didn’t do him any good to make the comparison, and it gave his political enemies ammunition for their jeering and heckling.

The Alamo deal will evolve, and it’s the kind of civic remake that could win a land commissioner a lot of friends. Think of the political points Rudy Giuliani racked up by clearing the porn theaters out of New York City’s Times Square. The Red River land dispute could go the state’s way — another opportunity for a rising politician to take home a blue ribbon.

The other option for getting public attention, of course, is to catch a lot of dogs. That’s a joke. Nobody in politics wants to be a joke.

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Politics George P. Bush