Buckingham swept the November midterm elections, besting Democratic nominee Jay Kleberg with 56 percent of the vote to his 42 percent — well over a million-vote margin of victory — and will begin her four-year term in January.
GLO Transition Plans
Buckingham has begun to announce some of the changes the GLO will see during her administration, most recently announcing her transition team, writing in a statement that “the hard work of implementing the vision we set before the voters has begun.”
“I am excited about building a team at the General Land Office that shares in that vision and will work tirelessly on behalf of Texans each and every day,” Buckingham said.
Notably, the list includes former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, along with a host of other past and present elected officials.
Agency History and Jurisdiction
According to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), the GLO was originally tasked by law to “superintend, execute, and perform all acts touching or respecting the public lands of Texas.”
This duty included keeping title records as well as creating and keeping maps and surveys.
Texas as a state has had a rich and unique history of public lands, from its early Republic days of honoring all land grants from Spain and Mexico to the present, with circumstances leaving the state in possession of an abundance of resources.
One explanation for the state’s vast land holdings today is that the federal government refused to accept land from the state in order to pay its debts when it was admitted into the Union, a condition that resulted in Texas uniquely owning its submerged coastal lands that extend slightly over 10 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.
The ownership of those coastal lands didn’t go without controversy, however.
Numerous legal and political battles ensued over the years when the federal government tried to reassert control over Texas’s and other states’ offshore territory.
With the Texas Constitution of 1876 having established what is now known as the Permanent School Fund (PSF), an account that funds public schools with interest earned from state resources it holds — including offshore mineral rights— the federal government’s attempted land grab was viewed with disdain in the 1950s by Texas Democrats, who saw the move as potentially defunding the state’s public education system.
This led to the Texas Democratic Party State Convention endorsing Republican presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, who sided with Texas on the coastal territory issue and helped the Republican ticket sweep the state and the White House that year.
Today, the PSF is the largest education endowment in the nation, holding some $42 billion in state assets managed by the GLO, and the proceeds are distributed by the School Land Board and the State Board of Education Managed-Portfolio.
Duties of the GLO
The GLO is tasked by law with a variety of other duties, in addition to its public education funding component.
Texans have long enjoyed a constitutional right to access the state’s public beaches, a right the GLO is tasked with protecting under the Texas Open Beaches Act.
The Texas Veterans Land Board uses funding from the GLO’s resources to provide assistance to military service members, veterans, and their families by offering financial services and maintaining state military cemeteries.
The GLO also maintains a Community Development and Revitalization Division that works with federal disaster relief agencies like FEMA to respond to natural disasters by assisting with critical infrastructure repairs and providing housing redevelopment.
Border security was a significant issue during the primary election, relating to the agency’s ability to approve the construction of a border wall on state-owned lands bordering the Rio Grande with Mexico.
And after nearly 200 years, the GLO still carries out its original mission of surveying 200,000 miles of land, providing and updating maps, and overseeing the state’s land and mineral holdings.
The Alamo and Archives
In 2011, the shrine of Texas liberty, the Alamo, was entrusted to the care of the General Land Office by the Texas Legislature.
Today, the Alamo is managed by two non-profit organizations overseen by the GLO to oversee the day-to-day activities at the historic site. Incoming Commissioner-elect Buckingham made preserving the heritage of the site a large part of both her recent campaign and her previous time as a state senator.
Lastly, the GLO is tasked with preserving some of the state’s records in its archives, counting some 35.5 million documents and 45,000 maps — some dating back to the year 1561 — within its inventory.
The archive, which the GLO says is entirely funded through grants and private contributions, works with “historical associations, museums, universities, lineage societies, other state agencies, and other groups to preserve and provide important Texas history resources to the people of Texas.”
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Matt Stringer is a reporter for The Texan who writes about all things government, politics, and public policy. He graduated from Odessa College with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Leadership. In his free time, you will find him in the great outdoors, usually in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend region of Southwest Texas.