A tempest has been around Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush for being away during his father’s presidential campaign, for his firings of top agency leaders, and the purported hiring of “friends’ and “cronies” and those close to the Bush family. What is the real story?
The Houston Chronicle reported on September 11th that the 39-year-old Bush “has been out of the state or otherwise off of work nearly half of the time since his father entered the GOP race for president.” It charged that he missed 23 of the first 50 workdays since his father, Jeb Bush, started his presidential campaign on June 15th.
Texas taxpayers pay the younger Bush a salary of $137,500 a year to run the Texas General Land Office (GLO).
On September 13th, The Texas Tribune reported that GLO spokespersons were saying that Bush had only missed 7.5 of the 63 days in connection with his father’s presidential campaign. On September 17th, the Austin American Statesman published an article concluding that claims that Bush had been “gone half the time” were not true. The publication stated it had reviewed Bush’s calendar, and “media reports of Bush’s whereabouts and social media posts,” and concluded that Bush had missed slightly more than seven days to help with his father’s campaign. They said this conclusion was confirmed by a Bush spokesperson and his scheduler.
On September 18th, the Houston Chronicle published an article that claimed that Bush “has dramatically remade the General Land Office by ousting a majority of its longtime leaders and replacing many of them with people with ties to his campaign and family.” Another publication made similar claims.
On September 18th, the Austin American-Statesman looked at the agency’s “reboot” which included the loss of 111 employees, an alleged 17 percent of the agency’s workers. Former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said that the downsizing represented “a purge of the best agency in Texas government and a purge of people who have done wonderful things.” Breitbart Texas talked to Patterson and he confirmed that he made these statements. He also confirmed that he had said, “This whole idea is all about looking good. It’s all about ‘I’m going to show that I can cut the size of government.’ I think it’s some serious ignorance. You’ve been hired to do a job.” A former employee also was reported to have said, “If you look at who the leadership is at the GLO now, they’re mostly under 40. They’re more enamored with Twitter and that stuff than actually doing a good job of running the agency.”
A GLO spokesperson told Breitbart Texas, “The reboot is an opportunity to take a surgical approach to reforming the agency by methodically restructuring all areas of operation and keeping high performers who are serving well, while attracting talented professionals to help lead this organization to serve Texans better.”
A July 30th GLO press release states that “the Land Office is consolidating divisions to reduce the number of managers and the number of employees who report to each manager. The restructuring will move much of the agency’s day-to-day decision-making out of centers of managerial power and into the hands of front-line agency staff.”
On July 27th, Bush spoke to his staffers and addressed agency changes, including the agency “reboot.” All of the articles questioning Bush were published after this all-staff meeting.
The meeting was webcast so that employees who were unable to be physically at the meeting could view it in real time. The video was uploaded after the live broadcast and it was posted on July 30th. The following is the video from the July 27th meeting:
As reported, Commissioner Bush told his GLO staff at the July 27th meeting that “the real threat really is internally.” He also told them that these “have to be rectified as soon as possible.” Bush told his employees that he was going to match pay with daily performance on an objective basis, and that everyone in the office was going to hold each other accountable. Bush told his employees that he wanted to increase transparency and communication, and understanding of what everyone is doing on a daily basis. He said he wished to empower those at the director level to empower others under their direction. Bush said he was “in full support of the reboot.”
After the Land Commissioner spoke at this staff meeting, Anne Isdal, his chief clerk, told employees that “rebooting the office” was “less about internal fiefdoms” and “more about getting things done across divisions.” She called it a “network” comprised of “a team of teams” and told them that the office intended to “break down information silos.” She addressed managers making themselves more powerful by “doling out little bits of information now and then.”
Isdal told employees at that meeting that the agency would be sharing information and was getting away from centralized, top-down management and control. She called it “inflexible.” She said the state agency would become faster, flatter, and more efficient. The GLO chief clerk said, “I don’t, and won’t, suffer individuals who sit on their laurels or count upon their connections to get by.” She continued, “We will undergo a culture change that will take some time and a very concerted effort on all fronts.”
Breitbart Texas spoke with former Land commissioner Jerry Patterson who said, “In light of the recent [articles], I think a fact-filled narrative is needed. Candidly, I have little interest in an ongoing dispute with my successor – I have other things to do. However, his repeated comments about ‘cleaning up’ and ‘reform’ of the GLO, and his reference to GLO employees as ‘dweebs’ while firing folks just so he can say he cut the budget and look good to Republican primary voters, require me to respond.”
Patterson added, “When we took over the GLO from [David] Dewhurst, there were several messes that needed taking care of. Even so, my public statements about Dewhurst were positive and I frequently commented that I ‘intend to be the best Land Commissioner in the history of the GLO, since David Dewhurst.’ There is no reason to make oneself look good by tearing others down.” Patterson provided Breitbart Texas with a list of the successes of the land office both before, and during his tenure, as publicized in TribTalk, a publication of The Texas Tribune.
When an article was published in The Texas Tribune on July 30th about a recent audit of the GLO, Patterson was reported to have said, “I can’t speak to the motive of the current Commissioner for apparently endeavoring to drop his predecessor ‘in the grease,’ but I would suggest he put more focus on doing his job and less on covering his derriere.” Patterson was reported to have been upset about Bush’s failure to send the auditor information which might have put the findings in a better context.
As to the charge that Bush has ousted many longtime leaders and replaced them with friends, family, and campaign ties for his “reboot,” GLO spokesman Bryan Preston told Breitbart Texas, “That specific charge reflects a government-first mindset. The Chronicle‘s story on that is also very misleading and inaccurate. The fact is, all past commissioners have brought a few of their own trusted people in with them including the one who continues lobbying accusations. Leaders want to bring in people who share their vision and ideals, so they can be effective in carrying out policies they were elected to carry out. Would people prefer that he hire all strangers and liberals?”
A Chronicle article questioned Bush’s choice to give two top posts to fellow law school classmates, two relatives of members of two Bush presidential administrations, and three to those with ties to family or other political leaders. The article charged that Bush had hired “29 people who worked on his campaign or have political connections” and accused the GLO of not always posting job opportunities with the Texas Workforce Commission.
Breitbart Texas asked the GLO to address the alleged hirings of “cronies” and asked them to address who was hired. The agency responded. “In reporting supposed ‘cronies’, the biased liberal reporter gave asterisks to everyone who ‘worked for Land Commissioner George P. Bush’s campaign or have other ties to him, his family or other political leaders.’ In painting with such a broad brush, the reporter included a high number of people hired based on their experience, not connections,” said a spokesman for the GLO.
“At the GLO we have hired staff with the practicable experience who can bring innovative ideas to the goal of reforming, instead of the status quo of ‘the way it has always been done,'” he continued. He pointed to a press release and said, “For example, at the beginning of August, the GLO held Texas’ first-ever online sale of oil and gas leases, which quickly became the biggest state lease sale in the nation earning public schools nearly $20 million.”
The GLO released this list of individuals who were tied to the campaign and their new positions:
- J.R. Hernandez – Director of Public Affairs
- Brittany Cheatheam – Alamo Division specialist
- Jeff Miller – Legislative Liaison
- Andrew Hart – Legislative Liaison
- Demetrius Moreno, South Texas Veterans Land Board coordinator
- Scott Zacheus – North Texas Veterans Land Board coordinator
- Kurt Adams – Central Texas Veterans Land Board coordinator
- Aaron Deleon – Travel Aide and Constituent Correspondence
Two campaign hires who were brought in temporarily to establish protocols and then left the GLO once their dedicated tasks were completed:
- Trey Newton – Deputy Commissioner (3 month transition leader)
- Ash Wright – Deputy Director of Government Affairs (worked during legislative session only, left in June)
Law school classmates:
- Hector Valle – Special Counsel
- Brian Carter – Asset Management Division Director.
Referring to the law school classmates, the GLO spokesperson said these two men “have developed strong reputations in their respective fields.” Valle was an Assistant U.S. Attorney who served on a specialized anti-gang task force. Carter was involved in complex commercial litigation and real estate investment.
The statement received by Breitbart Texas from the GLO concluded, “As you can see, the original 29 number [of those who worked on the campaign or had political connections] was highly inflated, as is typical of this reporter.”
Spokespersons for the office did not address the hiring of Chief Clerk Anne Isdal, Patty Wright, or five regional outreach coordinators, or the alleged failure to post job opportunities with the Texas Workforce Commission.
Isdal is reported to be the granddaughter of a former ambassador to the U.K. and close adviser to George H.W. Bush, and the daughter of a Texas Republican donor, Katharine Armstrong. Wright was reported to be the wife of Ash Wright, a campaign strategist who has allegedly returned to Bush’s campaign. The Wrights were reported to have received positions at the beginning of Bush’s tenure.
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and an associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2