We have some interesting candidates on our side.
A member of a South Texas family that owns one of the largest ranches in the country is seeking the Democratic nomination for Texas land commissioner, the statewide office overseeing the Alamo’s operations and the state’s natural disaster recovery efforts.
The seat will be open during the 2022 election as Republican incumbent George P. Bush runs for attorney general.
Jay Kleberg, an Austin-based conservationist whose family owns the sprawling King Ranch in Kingsville, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune on Wednesday that his campaign will focus on fighting climate change, managing the state’s disaster recovery and improving benefits for veterans.
“It’s the responsibility of the land commissioner to combat climate change and it seems like a bold statement in Texas politics right now, but we’ve gotta follow the science,” Kleberg said.
The Texas General Land Office manages 13 million acres of public lands and mineral rights across the state. As a result, Kleberg said the office has the “ability to diversify its portfolio of renewables” and “lead the state toward a low-emission future.”
Kleberg formerly served as associate director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the nonprofit partner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Kleberg said he is optimistic, pointing to his experience with the responsibilities of the office and saying conservation brings a “lot of people together.” And he suggested his bid would be well-funded, noting he has been able to raise over $100 million for conservation efforts.
This will not be Kleberg’s first bid for public office. In 2010, Kleberg ran as a Republican for the El Paso-area Texas House District 78, which is currently represented by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso. But Kleberg fell short in the three-way GOP primary that year to Dee Margo, who unseated Moody in the November general election.
Kleberg, asked Wednesday about his party switch, said that while he considers himself “a Texan first” he feels “strong about running as a Democrat” and is looking forward to the race.
“Texas deserves a representation that believes in combating climate change and bringing people together — not dividing them,” he said.
That’s Jay Kleberg of Kleberg County, where the King Ranch is. Fair to say, he’s a bit atypical for a Texas Democrat. You can see his announcement video here. He joins a field that according to the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet has four Republicans and four Democrats so far. The latter group includes Jinny Suh and two dudes I’ve not heard of.
The fact that Kleberg once ran for office as a Republican doesn’t bother me. It should be clear by now that there are a significant number of former Republicans out there, and anyone who is going to put fighting climate change at the top of their agenda is going to get a full hearing from Democratic voters. The fact that he’d be another white guy on the Democratic ballot is not a problem of his making, but as he’d have to defeat a woman of color to get there, it’s a question he’ll have to address. I think we know by now that anything can happen in these lower-profile downballot statewide primaries – for all we know, one of those other guys may win the nomination and have to answer those questions.
Of interest to me is that Kleberg County is one of the places that moved towards Trump in 2020. Obama won it 53.4% to 45.6% in 2012, Hillary won it 49.6% to 45.9% in 2016, and Beto took it 51.8% to 47.5% in 2018, but Trump carried it 50.3% to 48.6% in 2020. I should note that Kleberg split tickets in every year I looked – Republican State Rep. JM Lozano won it every year, Greg Abbott beat Wendy Davis in 2014 by a hair and Lupe Valdez by double digits in 2018, while Leticia van de Putte and Mike Collier won it in those years. Eva Guzman won it in 2016, while Chrysta Castaneda and several of the statewide Democratic judicial candidates took it in 2020. Maybe Kleberg can move the needle a bit in his home county – which by itself doesn’t mean much, as there were just under 11K votes cast there last year – and more importantly in other counties like it. I have no idea if this may be the case, or if he’d do better than Jinny Suh or one of the other dudes. It’s just the sort of thing I think about when doing posts like this. The main takeaway for you should be to pay attention to this race, the choice you make matters.