On May 21, Democratic Land Commissioner candidate Jay Kleberg held a press conference with major Houston area leaders to announce his pledge to combat the institutional ineptitude and discrimination present in the past actions of the Texas General Land Office.
Kleberg is running to replace controversial two-term Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who was widely seen as disinterested in the responsibilities of the office and decided against reelection this cycle in favor of a likely doomed run for Texas Attorney General.
The press conference was held in Houston’s Fifth Ward in front of the recently erected Women’s Preserve Mural. The location highlighted the importance of addressing the past racial prejudice on the part of the GLO.
“I thought this would be an appropriate place,” Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said. “We need someone sitting there over the GLO who will be as interested in people and their land throughout Texas as they are about people who are most affluent.”
Ellis and the rest of the press conference’s speakers made particular reference to GLO’s poor handling of recovery aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the most blatant example of which was the $0 awarded to Harris County in the initial round of federal relief funding.
“The day we found out, it was a bipartisan kick in the gut,” State Representative Ann Johnson said. “We are all one Texas. If not investing in our community is a partisan issue, then we all devastatingly suffer.”
The significance of the GLO in addressing Texas’s major problems was hammered home by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who made an unannounced appearance at the event to throw his weight behind Kleberg’s candidacy.
“This office is more important for communities who are under-resourced than any other,” Turner said. “It should not be caught up in political gamesmanship where you’re sending dollars where you think you can get votes but the need is not there. Jay understands it’s an office that should work for the people.”
A number of community activists also took the mic to endorse Kleberg and explain the importance of having proper representation in the General Land Office. Northwood resident Genette Smith described how the agency had no interest in what was happening with affected communities and their residents. Community activist Ivory Mayhorn decried the agency’s continuing inaction to assist numerous peoples’ homes that were wrecked by Hurricane Harvey. Greater Fifth Ward Super Neighborhood President Joetta Stevenson reminded the press that her area was still recovering not only from Harvey but seven disasters one after another with little help from the state of Texas and the General Land Office.
Kleberg finished off the media event with an impassioned speech noting the critical importance of the GLO not only to Texas but also the country as a whole.
“This is a national problem,” Kleberg said. “Texas is more than 50% of the share of billion dollar disasters nationwide. Even now, the GLO has not distributed half of the funds given by the federal government to help the recovery from Hurricane Harvey.”
Condemning past leadership for their unjust practices, Kleberg made a stirring pitch for a fairer, more equitable manner of Texan governance.
“The GLO should work for the people of Texas regardless of their politics,” Kleberg proclaimed. “They’ve put roadblock after roadblock to help people who suffer from the effects of climate change. We’ve found they’ve discriminated against communities of color. We need a new way that doesn’t hold down our most vulnerable. A Texas way.”