The average voter in the Lone Star State may not know a lot about the Texas General Land Office. However, the Texas land commissioner is regarded as the third most powerful elected position in the state.
The commissioner is responsible for close to $30 billion in assets, which include the authorization of oil and gas exploration on public lands and the revenues brought in by the royalties. But it doesn’t stop there.
From 10 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico to the beaches stretching the length of the state, from all public lands to the Permanent School Fund and a variety of veterans programs, the Office of the Texas Land Commissioner carries a tremendous amount of political authority and responsibility to the citizens of the state.
In the upcoming November elections the Democratic Party candidate for Texas Land Commissioner is former two-term mayor of El Paso, John Cook.
Together, with his high-powered political machine and entourage to include his wife; Maria, and Texas A&M graduate/granddaughter, Cook’s self-described “F-150 Tour across Texas” rolled into Killeen last week for a meet-and-greet at the local Democratic Party Headquaters on Rancier Avenue.
With steely blue eyes, wearing a broad-brimmed cowboy hat, boots, a bolo tie with a lone-star clasp and carrying a guitar, the tall and slender Vietnam veteran, businessman and politician entered the room where a small, enthusiastic group of supporters and interested voters warmly greeted him.
There, Cook unfolded a map of Texas. More than 16,000 miles of highways, byways and back roads highlighted the travels throughout the state on his grassroots campaign.
Cook told stories of his family life, military service, business career and time in office as a public servant.
“I bring experience to the table while my political opponent only brings name recognition,” Cook said of his opponent, George P. Bush. “We’ve already been ‘bushwhacked’ before and Texans are too smart to be ‘bushwhacked’ again.”
Making a “David versus Goliath” comparison, Cook said he is running against a Republican candidate who has a well-financed and highly experienced political organization.
Cook put a strong emphasis upon personal and political accountability and ethics.
“I was raised to do the right thing.” he said. “And I will take no money (campaign contributions) from a business affected by the Texas Land Office.”
Cook said Bush accepted campaign donations from companies that come under the regulation and supervision of the Texas land commissioner.
Oil, gas and gay rights
Issues having to do with oil, gas and renewable energy were extremely important to Cook and his audience.
“The current land commissioner (Jerry Patterson) has threatened to sue any community which votes ‘No’ to fracking.”
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the controversial use of water mixed with chemicals and pumped into the ground under high pressure to free trapped oil and gas. Fracking has been a boon to Texas and American oil and gas companies.
“It takes 550 gallons of water to produce one barrel of oil with fracking,” Cook said, adding Texas is in the middle of a drought. “My opponent says fracking is the solution to energy needs. But does the end (oil and gas) justify the means (fracking)? I say no.”
Stating he is “a pro-life Democrat and environmentalist at heart,” Cook briefly outlined a number of issues which gave the audience a better idea of his personal and political position.
“The Republicans say you have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness … unless you’re gay. I’m not gay,” Cook said. “But I’m happy.”
Cook said military and veterans issues are a high priority for him. The Texas land commissioner serves as chairman of the Texas Veterans Land Board and administers the Veterans Cemetery, Veterans Homesand Veterans Land Loan programs. Cook referred to the Texas Veterans Land Board as the “best run program for vets in the nation,” and he wants to keep it that way.
Cook and his brother both served combat tours in Vietnam, his father served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and his son served in combat in Afghanistan.
Cook also spoke respectfully of his political opponent and the entire Bush families’ military service.
“When it comes to our nation, our state of Texas and our veterans, both of us are patriots,” Cook said.