This month, George P. Bush secured the Republican nomination for Texas Land Commissioner. Below is an inside look at his campaign leading up to the GOP Primary.
It’s 8:30 a.m. on a crisp January day, and inside the lobby of a Travelodge in San Antonio, just a few strip malls away from the airport, George P. Bush is sipping the first of the day’s many cups of coffee.
Today’s the second day of a six-week, 41-city bus tour Bush has embarked on in order to do what so many in his family already have: win public office. While he’s been a soldier, teacher, lawyer and entrepreneur, the 37-year-old Bush (as in grandpa George Herbert Walker, uncle George W. and dad, Jeb) is making his first foray into politics with a campaign to become Texas’ next land commissioner. So far, the family’s favorite pastime is sitting well with the wiry, handsome candidate.
“I love the campaigning,” he says to me, his charismatic political presence turned all the way up to 11. “For me, politics is an art, and like in a business deal, there are clear winners and losers. I like that.”
Of course, most people aren’t entirely clear on what it is the Texas land commissioner actually does. The statewide position—for which Bush is seen as a shoo-in—is mostly concerned with regulating the use of public lands, collecting royalties from oil and gas companies that drill on state-owned land, funneling royalty revenues into granting military veterans favorable home loans and helping to finance education and other initiatives.
James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, puts a finer point on it. “Land commissioner is the political equivalent of a starter marriage,” he says. “I honestly don’t expect that [Bush’s] ultimate ambition in his life is to be land commissioner, but because it’s a down ballot, it gives him experience and exposure in running a statewide campaign.”
The post’s obscurity doesn’t hide the fact that Bush hasn’t won over all of his potential constituents. “Sure, he has a business background, but he’s got no experience in elected office nor in government,” Jason Stanford, an Austin-based political operative, says. “I honestly don’t know if he’s qualified to manage a large state agency. Honestly, we don’t know very much about him other than he’s got a nice smile.”
But if you ask Bush about his bona fides for being elected land commissioner, he’ll tell you the position is tailor-made for him.
“Given what the land commissioner’s office is responsible for, I knew my skill set could help me make a difference on day one,” Bush says. “For me, it isn’t about holding a title or some kind of high office. It’s about answering a call to service that entered my heart and got me to evaluate the ways I could serve Texas.”
He goes on: “I feel that Texans want to elect someone who has a business background, who has been an owner and an entrepreneur and is a risk taker, all to create opportunity instead of leaving it up to the bureaucrats in Washington.” It’s a tough balance to strike, because haven’t those previous Bush politicians been, well, bureaucrats?
The campaign RV we’re crossing Texas in serves as Bush’s mobile headquarters, and while the accommodations are about as far away from the plush ones you might expect for the scion of a political dynasty, the candidate—who’s raised more than $4 million for his campaign coffers—says they suit him.
“However we can get to where we need to go, we’ll do it,” he says of his low-maintenance campaign style. “We have rarely, if ever, used a private plane. It’s often a caravan of cars, or I’ll hop in my field rep’s truck and drive 300 miles for a rally. We’ll often share rooms in motels while on the road, and we’ll rent a midsize instead of a full-size car. It’s all about keeping the campaign lean and mean, and I think donors and supporters really appreciate that.”
Observers of Bush’s campaign, which pits him against East Texas businessman David Watts, give Watts—who, at press time, had raised about $7,000 in contributions—almost no chance of beating the much better-known, and financially flush, George P.
But whoever the opponent, it’s apparent that George P. is positioning himself as a new breed of Bush. Sure, he’s a conservative with a soft spot for Second Amendment rights and has a penchant for blue blazers and khakis, but he’s also a biracial Gen Xer who’s fluent in Spanish—handy for campaigning among the Hispanic 38 percent of the state’s population and 17 percent of the voting electorate.
And while it’s been almost 15 years since a Bush held statewide office in Texas—the last time, George W. was governor—and a lot has changed since then, there’s still something to be said for the family’s connections.
“George’s name is a blessing,” Jeb Bush says of his son, “since he has role models who can help him in serving the state of Texas.”
It’s not something Bush is above playing for a laugh. “To be perfectly clear, I’m running for this office because Barbara Bush told me to,” he quips to the lunchtime crowd at McBee’s Bar-B-Que, a stop in the small town of Jourdanton. “But I’m also doing it because I’m worried about what future awaits my 8-month-old son, Prescott.”
Young Prescott does get plenty of his father’s consideration, and his time. The only personal rule governing Bush’s bus tour is that the candidate will not spend more than three consecutive nights on the road before heading home to Fort Worth to be with his wife, Amanda, a lawyer, and the infant who bears a favored family name.
“Easily the most rigorous part of my schedule is missing my son,” Bush says. “Not being there when he gets his first two teeth, not hearing his cries and sobs. And as for my wonderful wife, all I’ll say is that like most Bush men, I married up. I couldn’t do this without her.”
On the subject of other Bush men, it’s worth noting that George P. is the only one of his generation to have entered the family business. “George is the oldest of his generation, [so] there may be others that emerge going forward,” his father notes. “But to be honest, not all Bushes feel compelled to run for office—just a few of us.”
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