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Meet the two Republicans running for Texas land commissioner

Dawn Buckingham (left) and Tim Westley (right) are vying for the Republican nomination for Texas land commissioner.
Dawn Buckingham/Texas Senate
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Tim Westley
Dawn Buckingham (left) and Tim Westley are vying for the Republican nomination for Texas land commissioner.

Lee esta historia en español.

Republicans in Texas will decide next week who will be their nominee for commissioner of the Texas General Land Office: either Trump-endorsed candidate Dawn Buckingham or GOP historian Tim Westley.

The winner in the May 24 runoff will be a step closer to helm the agency in charge of managing the state’s 13 million acres of land, as well as the distribution of disaster aid and help for the state’s veterans.

Since 2015, the position has been held by Republican George P. Bush. But that will soon change now that he is running for Texas attorney general.

Whoever wins will face the winner of the Democratic runoff between Jay Kleberg and Sandragrace Martinez in November. (Read about the Democrats running for land commissioner.)

Dawn Buckingham

The frontrunner in the Republican race is Buckingham. She’s currently a state Senator from Lakeway, outside of Austin. In March’s eight-person Republican primary, Buckingham was the clear leader, receiving about 42% of the votes.

She has also secured big endorsements, including the coveted support of former president Donald Trump.

Her campaign’s website prominently states she’s a proven conservative: anti-abortion and someone who has championed border security.

The Texas Newsroom made multiple interview requests with Buckingham's campaign, but she was never made available for this story. In a February interview with the conservative outlet Texas Scorecard, Buckingham explained how she views the land commissioner position.

“The Land Office is literally the tip of the spear to defend our border with the state lands that are on the border, our history, and oil and gas against what the liberal left is trying to do,” Buckingham said.

On the campaign trail, she held multiple stops with Lt. Governor Dan Patrick where they pushed back against the Biden administration lifting Title 42 — a policy that allows for the immediate expulsion of asylum seekers and other migrants at the southern border on public health grounds.

In her interview with the Texas Scorecard she said she’ll do whatever needs to be done to stop migrants from crossing the border illegally. But Buckingham hasn’t been specific in terms of policies.

When asked how the agency can improve disaster recovery, she said, “There’s been a lot of articles about how we probably have a lot of room to improve in our hurricane recovery. So, we'll be looking at that very seriously.”

How the General Land Office under Bush has handled disaster recovery has been a sticking point among Democrats and Republicans.

Last year, the agency announced that the city of Houston and Harris County weren’t included in the first round of federal relief funding related to recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey. The agency backtracked its decision afterward.

Tim Westley

Disaster recovery is one of the things Buckingham’s runoff challenger, Tim Westley, wants to specifically address.

“It’s not OK when we have an example of Hurricane Harvey hitting and we have people that are still reeling from the effects of it years later,” Westley told The Texas Newsroom. “One of the goals I have — immediate goals — is to make sure that we have liaisons in all of the locations across Texas where people can reach them.”

Westley is the historian of the Republican Party of Texas. He said his background as a historian and veteran motivated him to run.

In the March Republican primaries, Westley got second place with just 15% of the votes.

Westley said he wants to use the role of land commissioner to help preserve history across the state. One of the examples he gave was the Alamo Cenotaph in San Antonio.

Also known as The Spirit of Sacrifice, the Alamo Cenotaph is a monument near the front of the Alamo in San Antonio to honor those who fought in the Battle of the Alamo.

During his tenure as land commissioner, George P. Bush came under fire for wanting to redevelop the site, and proposing relocating the Cenotaph because of its deteriorating condition.

But for Westley, the monument must stay.

“Love it or hate, it’s still history,” Westley said. “If we don’t protect the history, then it’s easy to be rewritten and that's not what we want.”

Buckingham told the Texas Scorecard she would also not move the Cenotaph anywhere.

Westley has carried on a low-key campaign, laying out more specific plans on how to tackle the issues under the purview of the General Land Office.

Contrary to Buckingham, he hasn’t talked much about securing the border or being pro-life.

“I address those issues but … there's not a direct impact that the land commissioner’s office has on those,” Westley said. “Am I pro-life? Absolutely I’m pro-life. With that being said, those issues are going to be more on the legislative side. This is an executive position.”

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the Texas Capitol Reporter for The Texas Newsroom. Got a tip? Email him at smb@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel.
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