Voices of Texas is a series of exclusive conversations with the people who make the Lone Star State what it is, discussing the important topics of today and looking toward the future.

AUSTIN, Texas — From his name alone, it seems George P. Bush was destined to go into politics. Currently, he serves as Texas Land Commissioner, and he said he’s determined to pave his own path in public service. 

A native Texan, Bush graduated from Rice University, then became a school teacher before going to law school at The University of Texas. In 2014, he was elected as Texas Land Commissioner, and he’s taken the lead on historic projects like the remodeling of the Alamo and helping Texans rebuild after Hurricane Harvey. 

With issues like COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, and police reform taking center stage, Bush said it’s time for Texans to come together to help one another. 

Spectrum News recently sat down with Bush to hear his vision of the future. 

What does being a Texan mean to you?

"Well, I think the Texas spirit is all about being tough. It's about being independent. It's about being strong, and it's about being proud. And so when I think about the current environment, the new normal that we live in, I see the Texas spirit every single day at the Land Office… I'm just proud to be a Texan. I'm proud of the spirit and the ingenuity and the innovation that's taking place in our state."

What sets Texas apart from the other states in the country?

“We have a unique history in the fact that we established our own Republic. We, of course, have our six flags and have a storied history, whether it's the Spanish crown, the Mexican Republic, or even the Texas revolution that resulted in the Texas Republic. And that's one of the coolest aspects of being land commissioner is that I serve as the custodian of many of these historic items, and I serve as the day-to-day manager of the Alamo, the most visited site in the state of Texas. So it's really an everyday experience for us to not only live this history, but to teach it. Now as the father of two who are seven and five years old, I consider it a personal mission of mine to continue to teach Texas children, whether we're doing it remotely or in person, now with the new realities of COVID-19, to speak to this history and make sure other generations understand it.”

What do you think Americans get wrong in their assumptions or understanding of Texas and Texans?

"Well, I think that sometimes they don't understand our independent viewpoint and how we view the world. We're very much individualistic in that we roll up our sleeves, and we just get things done. And you know what I thought was remarkable after Hurricane Harvey was the rest of the country just admired our spirit. They admired the Cajun Navy; they admired people helping each other out whether you were white or Black or brown it didn't matter. We helped out our fellow man and responded to this crisis. As somebody who helped the governor, helped our communities recover and still do, I just thought it was remarkable that that spirit was unique and the rest of the country saw it as uniquely Texan. They misinterpret that as braggadocio or swagger, as my uncle would say. Sometimes it's just, you know, in Texas we’re just walking, and that's swagger, so that's who we are. Sometimes it's misinterpreted, but you know I think it's, again, one of the reasons why we're considered to be such a great state."

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, left, poses with Bella the official Alamo cat following a news conference to celebrate the $31.5 million the General Land Office received for the preservation and development of the Alamo, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, left, poses with Bella the official Alamo cat following a news conference to celebrate the $31.5 million the General Land Office received for the preservation and development of the Alamo, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

You have one of the most famous last names in Texas. Was there ever a moment in your life when you wished you were more anonymous?

"There is one time in my lifetime where I was more anonymous, and that was serving in our nation’s military. A little known fact is in order to avoid forced protection issues downrange, when I served in the military, we decided, with my leadership, to change my name and identity, so I had a chance to be somebody else while wearing the uniform. It was a fun experience, and when times are tough in politics I wish I had a different identity, but it's a name I’m proud of they're big boots to fill for sure, but, and I admire my family's leadership and approach to service, but I tried to bring my own vision for the state to this office, and it's one I'm very proud of." 

What have you found most challenging about the Coronavirus pandemic? How would you grade Texas in how it's handled the outbreak?

"Well I think we can do better, you know. I think we can all wear the mask. I’ve been wearing the mask from day one. I think of my predecessor Earl Rudder, who stormed the beaches of Normandy during his WWII service and I think about that generation, my grandfather’s generation, I think the greatest generation of our county, and they stormed those beaches, and they fought in the Pacific so we could have freedoms. But to wear a mask is a minimal sacrifice. It's the least we can do in our generation to stop the spread of this virus. We’re seeing a spike of these cases in our state, and frankly, it's unacceptable. We need to help our fellow man. We did it after Hurricane Harvey, we’ve done it in the space race, we've done it in so many other challenges in our state historically speaking. Let's do it by wearing a mask and stopping the spread of this virus." 

Regarding racism and discrimination, you’ve said you have let a lot slide from critics, but no more. You also said the "GOP must not tolerate racism of any kind." What have you endured, and what changes need to be made in the Texas GOP?

“As a kid growing up both in Texas and Florida, I've heard the terms on the baseball field, I've heard the terms in restaurants; wet back, beaner, you name it, that are very hurtful and damaging. But with that, I've learned that racism is a challenge for the racist, not for the person who is aggrieved, and that the problem really lies on their shoulders. But as a public leader, the challenge is different because I feel it's incumbent upon myself, as the only Hispanic minority, honestly, the only minority serving statewide, to speak out against it even in my own party. It's unacceptable that our self-avowed leaders have condoned it or facilitated it. I don't think it should have a room in modern-day politics. I think that in the wake of the George Floyd protests that we need to do a better job of bringing communities together, toning down the rhetoric. Instead of pouring gasoline on fires, we need to put out these fires. And that starts with meaningful dialogue with key community stakeholders throughout the state from different industries to work out ways in which we can reform the ways that we police ourselves, but to deal with institutional racism that is affected not only our state, but other parts of our country.

At the Land Office, we do play a part because questions of the Alamo are raised, questions of statutes and monuments...but you know I'm proud of my role that I've played. It's important, regardless of your party, that we have this discussion, we talked about how we can have that more, ideal more perfect union. E pluribus unum, all of us of one, and trying to aspire to the values and the vision that the founders of our great republic outlined, especially as we celebrate July 4.

In recent weeks as protests have grown around the country to demand police reforms, many Hispanic activists have said that their population also is a frequent target of racial profiling by law enforcement. What are your thoughts on that?

“I think that we can always look at how we evaluate law enforcement in our state. And we've made tremendous progress with laws that look at not only racial profiling for highway pullovers at the state level, but ways in which we actually tactically enforce. We've had criminal justice reform bills actually get passed last legislative session and bail reform proposals that were agreed upon by both the left and the right. So, we have made progress.

I think that where we lose sometimes the ability to truly reform is to sit down and have a discussion like the one we're having right now, where if you look at Austin, you look at the big cities and its citizen-led initiatives, led by police commissions that are going to work with police unions and law enforcement officials to get to those types of reforms that will again, not put fuel on the fire, but actually think about putting out the fire. And so, I'm optimistic in Texas we've responded to that in the legislature here at the Capitol. But there's more work to be done, and I expect that once we get past these elections that criminal justice reform will remain a priority for the legislature.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Father to George P. Bush (Spectrum News)

Your father, Jeb Bush, ran against Donald Trump in 2016. Members of your family have made it clear they do not support many of the president’s policies, yet you have said you will vote for him in November. Has this caused any tension in the family? What will it be like at the Thanksgiving dinner table this year?

I've joked before my Thanksgivings are lonely at times, but you know I've laid out the reasons why publicly, and I'll continue to stand behind the president. But I do think that, you know, when you look at the future of the state and the country he’s been good to us, you know when on Hurricane Harvey he was there, on the tarmac getting ready for hurricane response. Vice President Pence as well.

We're just like any other family. We have our disagreements, and I love them more than life can tell, but you know this is one area where we've had our disagreements, but I'm proud to serve in this role. I'm proud to lead Texas in a different way. And that's where I'm going to bring my voice is focusing on the issues that the Land Office deals with. And so, we still have a lot of work to do on the Alamo, on asset management, getting ready for the most difficult budget session you'll see probably since 1986. So there's a lot on the plate right now, here in Austin.

Let’s talk about education. You nearly flunked out at Rice University and even failed a political science class. What turned that around and fuels your emphasis on education today?

“Well I think we all face challenges. It was interesting because when I went public with my syllabus and my grades in college, a lot of people reached out and said, ‘You know, George P. I had the same grades in college.’, And, you know, for me, I was going through some challenges in my life, you know,  I learned pretty quickly I wasn’t going to be a major league baseball player. I walked on at Rice University and played with Jose Cruz and Lance Berkman, and the frustrations there I think kind of played out in my academic approach. But you know I talk about how I became an inner-city school teacher, and my passion for education really ignited my interest in being a good student myself. I started with mentoring a young man named Ezekiel Gonzalez, who—he came from a family that didn't know English. He was a first-generation immigrant, and we worked on his reading, and eventually would be the first in his family to graduate from high school and somebody who I kept in touch with.

But it forced me to think outside of myself, to think about causes greater than my selfish interests, and it really translated in itself, you know, in my grades when I finally got on the honor roll. But I later became a teacher in the inner city as my first job after Rice University, and it was one of the reasons why I decided to be a public servant. At the Land Office, we provide such a large source of revenue to Texas, in fact, the largest source of revenue outside of taxation. Last year we devoted it to education since the session focused on giving teachers their first pay raise in several decades, and we are a part of helping to fund that. We provided Texas State history classes throughout the state. We brought in an Alamo cannonball that we found through an excavation on the grounds in San Antonio, and you can just see the eyes lit up in the students of public schools throughout the state. It was just a great experience, and again it's just another inspirational reason why I chose to do this and why I encourage other people to think about public service.”