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The Surprising Role Of Land Commissioner, Launchpad Of Texas Politics

This 1849 mpa of Texas was compiled from Land Office records.

The state of Texas owns a bunch of land. That's because, in case you didn't know, we used to be our own country and joined the United States without the need for a land grant from the Feds.

All that land needs someone – and an office – to look after it.

"I think the [The Texas General] Land Office describes the duties of the land commissioner pretty well," says Bill Peacock, vice president of research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. "It's basically to take care of the public lands of the state of Texas that don't belong to a specific agency or universities or things like that."

That includes making money off those lands.

"The primary function of the land commissioner and Land Office is to manage those lands to bring in revenue for the permanent school fund," Peacock said. "And that in turn puts money into the available school fund which is used to help support public education – particularly in support of purchasing textbooks for students."

That's right: The Texas land commissioner’s job is to help fund public education. In fact, the $37.3 billion Permanent School Fund gives more money to public schools in Texas than the Texas Lottery.

But land revenues also help pay for other land office priorities, which range from watching over Texas' enormous coastlines to funding programs for the state's military veterans.

The land commissioner’s office also has had another, less official, function over the last few years: political launch pad. Current Commissioner George P. Bush has long been rumored to be interested in running for higher office, like governor or president. The man he replaced, former Commissioner Jerry Patterson, left the office in 2014 to run for lieutenant governor in the GOP primary. The man he was trying to replace, former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, was also a former land commissioner. Patterson, by the way, is back on the GOP primary ballot, trying to defeat Bush.

Here's a quick cartoon explainer of the Land Commissioner's office, from KUT's Mike Lee:

This story originally ran in 2014.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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