AUSTIN, Texas – George Prescott Bush is gearing up to run for a little-known but powerful office in a state where his family already is a political dynasty and where his Hispanic roots could help extend a stranglehold on power Republicans have enjoyed for two decades.
The 36-year-old Fort Worth attorney says he is close to settling on campaigning for Texas land commissioner next year. He doesn’t expect to make a decision until he knows what Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican, decides to do.
“We for sure are running, the question is the office,” Bush told The Associated Press during the first interview about his political future since filing paperwork in November to seek elected office in Texas.
Bush’s father is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, his grandfather is former President George H.W. Bush and his uncle is former President and Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Perry has been governor since 2000.
Land commissioner traditionally has been a steppingstone to higher office, but Bush said little about any plans to eventually become a national political force.
Instead, he spoke of how his past experience as an asset manager would help him manage the Permanent Schools Fund, which pays for public education and is managed by the land commissioner. He also said his perspective as an Afghanistan war veteran will help him use the post to become a leader in veterans’ affairs.
Bush said he would announce his final decision after the Texas Legislature adjourns in May but added that his choice will depend “where the governor’s thinking is.” Perry, who flamed out as a presidential candidate but remains popular in Texas, said he’ll reveal this summer if he will seek another term.
Some have speculated that Bush could challenge Perry for governor – and even if he doesn’t, what Perry decides will trigger political dominos falling. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson plans to run for lieutenant governor next year, creating a vacancy in his office. But Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, may himself run for governor in 2014, meaning his post could be open too.
Bush suggested he’d be willing to wait his turn politically rather than immediately seeking top positions coveted by others in the state GOP.
“We’ve said that we want to be team players in the party, providing a younger, fresher vision for our values,” he said in the interview Friday.
Bush speaks Spanish, and his mother Columba is from Mexico. Conservatives view George P. Bush on the ballot as a way to solidify support among Hispanics.
A Democrat has not won statewide office in Texas since 1994, but Hispanics tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic and accounted for two-thirds of Texas’ population growth over the last decade. Bush noted: “We’ll be majority Hispanic in six years.”
“I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that having a candidate of Hispanic origin, or someone who can speak Spanish, can automatically obtain these votes,” Bush said of Hispanics. “Having said that, it’s important tactically to have candidates that understand issues of the community.”
Bush’s mother has said that one of the reasons she and Jeb Bush left Texas for Florida in the 1970s was because she felt like she had experienced racism here. But George P. Bush said, “the way I view it, rather than an issue of discomfort, is economic opportunity.”
“This has been, at least for our generation, the best place to be economically,” he said of Texas and its record of strong job creation.
He said he didn’t think there was more intolerance toward Hispanics in Texas.
“Obviously, I think that issue exists wherever you go,” he said. “I don’t think it’s just unique here.”
Bush said of trying to stand out among his famous political family, “It’s always been the thing of my grandmother to say, ‘Go out and make a name for yourself’ and that’s something that I’ve followed.”
“But who better to ask for advice on politics than two former presidents and a former governor?” he said. “They’re not involved in the day-to-day operations. They’re not involved in formulating my ideology. It’s more of an informal advice.”
Bush said his grandfather inspired him to join the military, and he was deployed to Afghanistan as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He said that before enlisting, he knew politics was in his blood but felt he was too inexperienced to run for office.
It wasn’t until the last few months, however, that “I felt it was time for my generation to step forward in state politics,” Bush said.
Bush now spends his time crisscrossing Texas and the country, raising money and meeting with supporters. He was in Austin on Monday and posed for pictures outside the state Capitol before disappearing into meetings with legislators.
Someone he didn’t see, however, was Perry. The governor said Bush’s seeking elected office is a good thing for Texas and the Republican Party, and that he would like to speak to him about it adding: “He knows my phone number.”
But then, Bush has his uncle to turn to for Texas gubernatorial perspective.
“It’s much like starting a business,” Bush said, “and having people who have been there and done it and run statewide, it’s definitely been helpful.”