George P. Bush made it official this week: he is challenging Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the Republican primary next year. It’s sure to be a barn burner of a race, with widespread implications for Texas and the country.
Paxton, currently under investigation by the FBI for bribery and abuse of office, already had a rocky pathway to reelection. But now he’s facing an inter-party fight with someone who comes with last name recognition and plenty of high-profile conservative donors.
Several Republicans in Texas had been nudging Bush to make the plunge, and he heeded their calls. Bush clearly has high ambitions. And it doesn’t sound like he’s particularly eager to remain the Land Commissioner of Texas. For those who aren’t familiar with our Land Commissioner, which oversees the Texas General Land Office (about 13 million acres of state land), here’s a primer.
George P. Bush is the son of Jeb Bush, the former Governor of Florida and onetime presidential candidate (please clap). He is a lawyer and a former U.S. Navy reserve officer. He also co-founded Pennypacker Capital LLC, which bills itself as “an operationally intensive real estate private equity firm.”
Growing up, Bush volunteered on several campaigns for his family members, including his father’s run for governor and his uncle’s run for president. He is the co-founder and chairman of the Hispanic Republicans of Texans PAC. He was also the chair of the Maverick PAC, a group aimed at getting young Republicans into office. Bush spoke to Politico about taking the PAC national back in 2011.
In 2012, Bush began telling Republican donors in Texas that he was interested in running for statewide office. The next year he made it official by running for Land Commissioner, an open seat, and he essentially cruised to election.
As Land Commissioner, Bush’s tenure has been, well, a disaster. Which is not an easy accomplishment for such a ho-hum position. The big trouble for Bush started at the most famous place in the state: the Alamo.
Texas Monthly chronicled the full timeline of the debacle, which started shortly after Bush took office. In 2014 singer Phil Collins, an apparent Alamo history buff, donated a slew of artifacts to Texas with the stipulation that they should be housed in a respectful manner. In essence, the Alamo needed some sprucing up. Bush and his team at the Land Office brought in an outside Texas design firm to handle the project. It was clear from the get-go that this firm was ill-equipped to handle such a project. Perhaps the most controversial proposal involved removing the Alamo cenotaph, a column with the names of the defenders of the Alamo.
Messing up the Alamo is not a place any Texas official wants to find themselves. For Bush, it was impossible to escape the stinging rebukes from fellow Republicans. Last year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick escalated things even further, posting on Twitter that nobody has put the Alamo more at risk than Bush. Patrick’s post came after Bush had gone on Fox News to warn against Antifa protesters at the Alamo (this was in the days right after the George Floyd video sparked worldwide protests).
Earlier this year, the two apparently worked through their disagreement and they appeared together at an event at the Alamo in April. The Phil Collins memorabilia also debuted a few weeks ago, though there is now some question as to whether or not all his artifacts are authentic.
Outside the Alamo debacle, Bush has also made plenty of other mistakes as Land Commissioner. On a conference call when his father was running for president, he said he relished having the opportunity to participate in a national campaign and compared his position in Texas to that of “dog catcher.”
Most recently, Bush had some heated exchanges with several Harris County lawmakers after the Texas General Land Office allocated zero dollars in Hurricane Harvey federal relief funds to Houston. Bush initially blamed the Housing and Urban Development Department of the Biden administration for that failure. Now though, after receiving pushback from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Bush announced that Houston would be receiving $750 million, though that is still significantly less money than they requested.
The biggest liability for Bush is ironically the thing that probably got him his role of Land Commissioner in the first place: his last name. Specifically, it’s how a Bush navigates through a party that is so dominated by Donald Trump.
The fealty that Bush has shown to Trump is so insane it rivals the relationship between Ramsay Bolton and Theon “Reek” Greyjoy on Game of Thrones. During the 2016 campaign, Trump ruthlessly mocked his father and bestowed him with the moniker of “Low Energy Jeb.” Still, George P. was a stalwart defender of Trump. So much so that Trump now refers to him as “My Bush.” At his campaign launch, Bush leaned so heavily into his Trump loyalty there were beer koozies that showed the two of them together with the tagline “This is the Bush that got it right. I like him.”
Trump has said he is planning to make an endorsement in the Attorney General’s race. He has already re-endorsed Patrick and Gov. Abbott. And he has a close connection to Paxton, who spoke before the insurrection at the Capitol on behalf of the losing president. He also filed a ridiculous case with the Supreme Court that would have tossed out the votes of several swing states.
And while the battle between Paxton and Bush is sure to be entertaining, ultimately the biggest losers could still be the citizens of Texas.