George Prescott Bush filed the official paperwork last week to run for Texas land commissioner next year, hoping to use a little-known but powerful post to continue his family’s political dynasty in one of the country’s most-conservative states.
A Spanish-speaking attorney and consultant based in Fort Worth, Bush is considered a rising star among conservative Hispanics, and his political pedigree is hard to match. He is the grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, the nephew of former President George W. Bush and the son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – himself often mentioned as a 2016 presidential hopeful. Bush is a lawyer, a Naval Reserves officer who has served in Afghanistan and a Latino in a state with a rapidly growing Latino population. He also said he’s part of a “9/11 generation” of people who came of age around the time of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Bush unveiled a new campaign website with a “George P. Bush for Land Commissioner” logo and featuring a three-minute video in which he says, “Texas is an exceptional state because we as Texans are exceptional.”
In the video, Bush describes spending recent months traveling the state and having hundreds of conversations with Texans – but says he kept returning to the advice of his grandmother, former first lady Barbara Bush, whom he calls “Ganny.” Bush says she taught him the importance of public service.
“If you believe, as I do, that Texas is truly an exceptional place with a rich heritage and a future of unbound potential, then I ask for your support as I run for Texas land commissioner in 2014,” Bush said.
George P. Bush has been active in politics for years. Last summer, he was promoted to deputy finance chairman of the Texas Republican Party.
Bush filed paperwork last November with the Texas Ethics Commission signifying he would run for statewide office next year, but he did not say which post he would seek. That touched off rumors he could try to become attorney general or even governor.
But Bush spokesman Trey Newton told The Associated Press that Bush spoke with current Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson before amending his previously filed Ethic Commission forms a day later. Paterson plans to leave the post to run for lieutenant governor.
In a January interview with the AP, Bush said he was already leaning toward a run for land commissioner but didn’t plan to formally announce his decision until this summer. Asked why he ultimately announced sooner, Newton said, “George P. has said he was looking to run for Texas Land Commissioner since day 1 but wanted to show the proper respect for Commissioner Patterson.”
Even though he had yet to officially settle on an office, Bush’s campaign raised an impressive $1.3 million between early November and Dec. 31.
Patterson said he believes running with the Bush name is “both a blessing a curse.” Some critics accused Bush of cynically shopping for the most politically opportunistic Texas office rather than being seriously interested in a specific one. But Patterson said that was a mere byproduct of Bush not being ready to make an announcement yet.
“That’s the problem you have when your last name is Bush,” Patterson said. “It’s impossible to control the message.”
The land commissioner administers state-owned lands and mineral resources. It is a post that can be a stepping stone to higher office: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was land commissioner before winning his current job.
Patterson described Bush as smart and qualified but stopped short of offering an official endorsement. Not that Bush would necessarily need the help – with his family name again coming to Texas ballots, other Republicans who once eyed the office might now look elsewhere.
A Democrat has not won statewide office in Texas since 1994, but Hispanics accounted for two-thirds of the state’s population growth over the last decade and now make up 35 percent of its population. They tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic – though the state GOP hopes Bush can change that.
His mother – Jeb Bush’s wife, Columba – was born in Mexico.
Bush grew up in Florida but met his wife Amanda while attending law school at the University of Texas. Amanda Bush is a partner with Jackson Walker, one of the oldest and largest Texas-based law firms.
Although Bush holds a law degree, he told the Business Press earlier this year he is no longer an active member of the Bar. He co-founded Pennybacker Capital, a real estate private equity venture, and now has a consulting firm, St. Augustine Partners Inc., that assists out-of-state businesses interested in moving to Texas.
In the campaign video, Bush said the state knows how to honor its veterans but also notes that Texas needs to improve its schools: “It is time for true, meaningful reform to a system that fails too many of our children.” He added that Texans have a “higher responsibility of stewardship of our natural resources.”
Bush describes in the video that, in addition to its work on natural resources, the General Land Office plays an important part in veterans’ affairs while also overseeing investment in the Permanent School Fund, which administers funding to public school districts around Texas.
Beside Patterson and now Bush, the Ethics Commission said it had only two other candidates listed as possibly running for land commissioner next year – and both staged unsuccessful campaigns previously and then simply failed to close their accounts, making it unlikely they would run again.
Still, Matt Glazer, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Progress Texas, suggested it may be too early to anoint the next Bush a future political force to be reckoned with.
“Serving in elected office is a privilege, not a birthright,” Glazer said in a statement. “George Bush must go through the same public screening as any other candidate.”