The Surprising Role of Land Commissioner, Launch Pad of Texas Politics

Mar 3, 2014

The state of Texas owns a bunch of land. That's because, in case you didn't know, we used to be our own country and joined the United States without the need for a land grant from the Feds.

All that land needs someone – and an office – to look after it.

"I think the Land Office describes the duties of the Land Commissioner pretty well," says the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Bill Peacock. "It's basically to take care of the public lands of the state of Texas that don't belong to a specific agency or universities or things like that." 

PAnd that means making money off those lands.

"The primary function of the Land Commissioner and Land Office is to manage those lands to bring in revenue for the permanent school fund," Peacock says. "And that in turn puts money into the available school fund which is used to help support public education – particularly in support of purchasing text books for students."

That's right – the Texas Land Commissioner’s job is to help fund public education. In fact, the $29 billion Permanent School Fund does more to fund public schools in Texas than the Texas lottery.

But land revenues also help fund the other land office priorities, which range from watching over Texas' enormous coastlines to funding programs for state's military veterans.

The Land Commissioner’s office has also had another, less official, function over the last few years: political launching pad. Current Commissioner Jerry Patterson is running for Lieutenant Governor in the GOP primary against, among other candidates, former Land Commissioner and current Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.

Here's a video on the functions of the Land Office, cartooned by KUT's Mike Lee: