Stakes are high in race for Texas Land Commissioner

This November, a conservationist King Ranch scion will face off against a Trump-endorsed conservative for the office controlling 13 million acres of state land

From left: Dem. Jay Kleberg, George P. Bush, and Rep. Dawn Buckingham (Jay4TX.com, Twitter/DrBuckinghamTX, Gage Skidmore/via Wikimedia Commons, iStock)
From left: Dem. Jay Kleberg, George P. Bush, and Rep. Dawn Buckingham (Jay4TX.com, Twitter/DrBuckinghamTX, Gage Skidmore/via Wikimedia Commons, iStock)

The next battle for control of the Alamo isn’t between Davy Crockett and Santa Anna, but between a conservationist and a MAGA firebrand.

The race has gone from 12 candidates — eight Republicans and four Democrats — to two Austin natives. Come November, either Democrat Jay Kleberg or Republican Dawn Buckingham will be elected the next Land Commissioner of Texas.

In Texas, land is everything. The state accounted for 14.6 percent of total U.S. land sales in 2021, according to the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A&M University. The Texas General Land Office (GLO) manages about 13 million acres of state land and the preservation of the Alamo. Its commissioner will oversee state veteran’s programs, the distribution of disaster relief funds, and the leases and sales of publicly owned land, which are used to fund Texas public schools.

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Kleberg, the former associate director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, wants to utilize state land leases to store carbon emissions and develop renewable forms of energy like wind and solar. Kleberg is closely tied to conservation, as he not only serves on the boards of a number of environmental non-profits but his family owns the sprawling King Ranch in Kingsville — a longstanding bastion of conservation. He also promises to strengthen the Permanent School Fund, provide low-interest land loans and housing to veterans, and ensure Houston and Harris County receive their proper share of disaster relief funds.

Dr. Buckingham, the first Travis County Republican elected to the Texas State Senate, prides herself on being a “conservative fighter against the liberal Austin and Washington, DC elite,” per her website. The few items of the Trump-endorsed candidate’s platform that actually fall under GLO’s purview include historical preservation of the Alamo and strengthening the border.

The previous commissioner, George P. Bush — son of Jeb Bush — vacated the office to challenge scandal-ridden incumbent Ken Paxton for state Attorney General. He lost the runoff on Tuesday.

Bush’s 2015 Alamo preservation plans were plagued with accusations of mismanagement and sparked intense Republican infighting. But that saga pales in comparison to the former commissioner’s 2021 scandal surrounding federal disaster relief funds. Houston and Harris County were oddly excluded from the list of 81 communities receiving $4.3 billion intended for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.

Earlier this month, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development deemed the exclusion of those majority Black and Hispanic urban communities to be discriminatory, concluding that the state “shifted money away from the areas and people that needed it the most,” disproportionately benefiting White residents living in smaller towns.