Marking his first 100 days in office, Land Commissioner George P. Bush on Wednesday touted the progress he has made on campaign promises while working to make his office more efficient and transparent.
Focusing on four areas he has prioritized — the Alamo, education, veterans and energy — Bush said the General Land Office "does important work, but it's important that we do it well. So in our first 100 days, we truly have transformed the GLO, but we're just getting started."
So far, the highest-profile part of Bush's tenure has been his decision to end the GLO's contract with the longtime managers of the Alamo. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas are now suing Bush for control of the contents of the library at the iconic site.
On Wednesday, Bush kept the focus on some of the less controversial decisions he has made regarding the Alamo: recruiting a number of big-name philanthropists for its endowment board, planning a fundraising drive to meet its preservation needs and partnering with San Antonio to map out its future.
"One hundred days in, and we're off to a great start to make sure we always remember the Alamo," Bush said.
A former public high school teacher who now oversees the Permanent School Fund, the land commissioner said he is uniquely qualified to fight for school choice, a priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. He also expressed his support for legislation that he said would save charter schools millions of dollars, nodding to his tenure as Tarrant County chairman of the charter-school operator Uplift Education.
Aiming to make it easier for veterans to become business and property owners, Bush has raised the limit on land loans for former military members from $100,000 to $125,000. Bush, a Navy Reserve officer, described the move as geared toward helping a new generation of veterans that includes himself. Bush also has set up a call center to handle questions about GLO benefits for veterans.
On the environment, Bush said the GLO is at the helm of a multiagency effort to look after the southeast Texas coastline, which perennially faces the threat of extreme weather. He also noted that his office is conducting energy-lease sales online for the first time, part of a broader push to make the GLO more open to the public.
"I know that for most people, seeing is believing when it comes to government efficiency," Bush said. "The people deserve to see what their government is doing, and so in the first 100 days, we've taken unprecedented steps to create a more open, more transparent, more accountable General Land Office."
According to the land commissioner, the office has installed its first director of open government to directly handle public-information requests, eliminated no-bid contracts in "nearly all instances" and set up a compliance division to keep tabs on how it doles out contracts. The overhaul has arrived amid a contracting scandal at another state agency — the Health and Human Services Commission — that has prompted Gov. Greg Abbott to order sweeping reforms across the board.
Bush also said the office is making more use of social media than ever to get the word out about its initiatives. His speech offered one exhibit of the priority: It was exclusively broadcast via the live-streaming app Periscope.
The speech gave Bush, considered a rising star in Texas politics, the opportunity to begin defining the accomplishments of what has already been a closely watched tenure. As he has settled into the GLO, his father, Jeb, the former governor of Florida, has moved closer to a 2016 presidential campaign.