AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — George P. Bush on Monday formally announced he is seeking re-election as Texas land commissioner next year, hoping to continue running a little-known but powerful agency in a state where his political-dynasty family has been prominent for decades.
Bush’s grandfather, President George H.W. Bush, was once a Texas congressman and his uncle, George W. Bush, won two Texas gubernatorial elections before leaving for the White House.
George P. Bush, 41, grew up in Florida, where his father, Jeb, was governor and launched his unsuccessful presidential campaign last year. The younger Bush won the position of Texas’ land commissioner handily in 2014, becoming the first in his family to win his first election.
After his father bowed out of the 2016 presidential race, Bush campaigned for Donald Trump as chairman of the Texas Republican Party’s victory committee — even though his family shunned the eventual president.
Describing himself as a movement conservative in the Newt Gingrich mold, Bush has said for months that Trump’s success repudiating politics-as-usual won’t make it harder for a member of one of the country’s most famous families to succeed in upcoming elections.
Bush’s path to re-election looks easy. He had $3.1-plus million in campaign cash as of January, no major Republicans have expressed interest in challenging him in the state party’s March 6 primary and he’s unlikely to draw a formidable Democrat in the general election.
A former teacher and oil and gas consultant who speaks fluent Spanish, Bush served in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer for the U.S. Naval Reserve. His mother, Columba, was born in Mexico and Bush has for years been considered a rising national star who can raise the Republican Party’s profile with Hispanic voters.
The land commissioner’s office manages 13 million acres (5.2 million hectares) of state public lands, and auctions off leases to explore for oil and natural gas on them. It oversees state veterans outreach and a public school endowment fund. Bush has also helped run an ongoing, $450-million remodel of the Alamo and surrounding plaza in San Antonio.
“My goal is to continue improving the ways in which we take care of veterans, prepare the coast from future disasters, honor the Alamo and generate revenues for the schoolchildren of Texas,” Bush told The Associated Press by email.
There had been speculation that Bush could attempt to jump to a higher-profile Texas office, especially with state Attorney General Ken Paxton having been indicted on felony securities fraud charges.
But Bush has long said he planned to run again for his current post. He made it official early Monday, unveiling a revamped campaign website that included a re-election video and emailing top supporters.
Bush shrugged off questions about whether another term as land commissioner could be beneath his political pedigree: “I’m not worried about anyone else’s expectations of me.”
He led a “reboot” that saw more than 100 staffers fired or leave the agency. Bush also drew criticism amid reports that his office paid nearly $400,000 in what the land commissioners’ office termed settlement agreements to dozens of departing employees, effectively keeping them on the state payroll for numerous extra months. The land commissioner’s office said those guarded against possible lawsuits from former employees that would have been more costly.
His campaign video trumpeted Bush’s “conservative record of accomplishment” noting “he made the General Land Office more efficient and lean, cutting the office staff and reforming the operational budget.”
More recently, Bush has written to Trump, seeking $15 billion in federal funding for a costal barrier system to shield Houston and Texas’ Gulf Coast from hurricanes. Bush doesn’t deny that the climate is changing and that humans play a role, but says he believes the impact of human influence is subject to debate.
Texas’ deadline to file for the primary is in December, meaning he still has time to change his mind and seek another office. But Bush says he has no plans to.
“I continue to believe that my skill set as a successful businessman, military veteran and school teacher make me uniquely qualified to serve the people of Texas in this role,” he said.