What some Texas conservatives are calling the "new battle of the Alamo" has triggered an unlikely, intraparty squabble involving the rising-star scion of one of the nation's most famous political families.
Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said Friday that he is entering next year's Republican primary against his successor and fellow Republican George P. Bush. Patterson left the commissionership in 2014 to run unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor while endorsing Bush to replace him.
Since then, though, the 71-year-old Patterson has been highly critical of Bush's cutting hundreds of jobs at the agency, as well as his leading of a major renovation of the Alamo, the San Antonio shrine where 189 Texas independence fighters were killed by Mexican Gen. Santa Anna's troops in 1836.
"I don't need a job and I would prefer, at this point, to be praising George P. Bush," Patterson said in a telephone interview. But "over the last three years, I've watched this agency crater."
Patterson faces an uphill climb against a well-known and well-funded incumbent.
Bush is the grandson of former President George H.W. Bush and nephew of former President and ex-Texas Gov. George W. Bush. His father, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, ran unsuccessfully for the White House last year. George P. is 41 and speaks fluent Spanish. He's seen in Texas and nationally as a possible, future political force who could help the GOP make inroads with Hispanic voters.
While relatively little-known, the land commissioner's office is powerful, overseeing 13 million acres of public lands, administering mineral rights for oil and natural gas exploration, and running veterans outreach programs and an endowment funded by energy revenues that helps pay for public schools. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott also tasked Bush's office with using federal funds to help thousands of Texas residents rebuild lost homes after Hurricane Harvey's devastation in Houston and other parts of the state this summer.
Bush is "arguably the most conservative land commissioner in Texas history," campaign manager Ash Wright said, noting that Bush drastically reduced the agency's size and sued President Barack Obama's administration over a dispute involving land near the Texas-Oklahoma border. He said Bush also used his notoriety to oppose abortion and promote voucher proposals seeking to offer parents public money to send their children to private schools.
"He is proud of his conservative record," Wright said in a statement. "And he is working hard to produce even more conservative victories."
Patterson's challenge is built on an issue that is deeply personal for Texas residents: Bush's office wants to reimagine the Alamo and enhance the experience of the 2.5 million annual tourists who make it the state's most-visited site. Plans include excavating and restoring historical structures, closing nearby streets and building a sprawling new museum for artifacts donated by pop star and Alamo enthusiast Phil Collins.
Some conservatives worry that the revamp will see the Battle of the Alamo sanitized by "political correctness," given that some of the battle's key participants were slaveholders and that the overhaul come as Confederate monuments are being removed across the country.
Construction has yet to start. San Antonio has pledged $38 million for the project; the Texas Legislature has approved $106.5 million since 2015. Its total cost could reach $450 million, much of which may be raised privately.
Texas' Republican Party's executive committee voted 57-1 in September to urge Bush to keep the focus of the renovation on the battle itself while also calling for more transparency in how the effort is funded.
This week, Bush drew sharp, bipartisan criticism from members of the Texas Senate about a lack of transparency after he said that a staff of around 70 was handling the Alamo renovation for a private endowment that may be exempt from Texas open records laws and other requirements that it publicly account for how funding is spent.
Also Friday, Bush drew his first major Democratic opponent, as 36-year-old energy attorney Miguel Suazo filed paperwork to run. Suazo faces an even tougher challenge than Patterson: A Democrat hasn't won statewide office in Texas since 1994.