State Sen. Dawn Buckingham wins bid to manage the Alamo, disaster relief funds and more as Texas’ next land commissioner

Republican state Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, won the race for commissioner of the General Land Office on Tuesday. (Bob Daemmrich For The Texas Tribune, Bob Daemmrich For The Texas Tribune)

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Republican state Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, won the race for Texas land commissioner Tuesday, putting her in charge of the agency that oversees the Alamo, natural disaster relief funds, veteran land loans and more as the fourth Republican in a row to head the Texas General Land Office.

Buckingham declared victory over her opponent, conservationist Jay Kleberg, on social media at 10:13 p.m. Central. Decision Desk HQ called the race at 1:27 a.m. Central on Wednesday. Buckingham is the first woman to lead the land office in its 185-year history.

Buckingham will replace Republican incumbent George P. Bush, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for attorney general instead of seeking reelection. Bush first became land commissioner in 2015; he succeeded fellow Republicans Jerry E. Patterson, who had headed the land office since 2003, and David Dewhurst, who filled the role for four years before Patterson.

“After crisscrossing our beautiful state for more than a year, tonight’s resounding victory is a testament to the hard work of so many people who believed in me and put their faith behind this campaign,” Buckingham said in a statement after declaring victory.

Kleberg’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

According to the most recent campaign finance reports filed Oct. 31, Buckingham’s campaign had about $501,500 on hand while Kleberg’s had almost $130,000. However, Kleberg’s campaign spent nearly twice as much as Buckingham’s — $1.38 million to her $700,000 — from Sept. 30 to Oct. 29.

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The land commissioner is in charge of the Texas General Land Office, the state’s oldest public agency. It is responsible for managing public land, including enforcing leases for mineral rights and selling land to raise funds for the Texas Permanent School Fund, the country’s largest statewide public education endowment that the land office controls. The land office and its leader are responsible for distributing natural disaster relief funds, like the money Texas received in the wake of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, and have been in charge of the Alamo, including plans for its renovations and upkeep, since 2011. The land commissioner also chairs the Texas Veterans Land Board, which manages nine group homes and four cemeteries for Texas veterans.

Before serving the public as a state senator and running for land commissioner, Buckingham earned her medical degree and worked as an eye surgeon specializing in oculoplastics.

Kleberg is a former associate director of the nonprofit Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and a member of the family that owns and operates the 825,000-acre King Ranch, which sprawls across several counties, including Kleberg and Kenedy counties.

In the race, Kleberg campaigned heavily on conservation and protecting public lands while Buckingham sold voters on lowering inflation — even though the land commissioner isn’t responsible for inflation — and developing Texas energy.

Buckingham and Kleberg had both indicated they plan to support veterans and grow the Permanent School Fund, key responsibilities of the General Land Office.

Both candidates made appearances around Texas to speak with voters during their campaigns; Kleberg spoke with everyday Texans during his dance hall tour while Buckingham made key stops across the state on her “Guns to Gowns” tour.

Buckingham boasted a list of endorsements from high-profile Republican figures, including former President Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Despite running as a Democrat, Kleberg was endorsed by a number of Texan politicians on both sides of the aisle, including Democratic candidate for governor Beto O’Rourke and Republican former Secretary of State Geoff Connor.

Disclosure: Texas General Land Office has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


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