NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas (AP) — George P. Bush made a safe but unpolished debut as a political candidate in Texas on Friday with a keynote speech heavy on Republican themes like energy independence but without the easy manner mastered by his family.
About 200 people at a policy conference luncheon near Austin nonetheless responded with enthusiastic applause before the 36-year-old nephew of former President George W. Bush left the room without shaking many hands or speaking to reporters.
"I can't contain my burning optimism for being a Texan," Bush said. "For being born here, for being educated here and having the opportunity to create opportunity here."
The keynote address at the Texas Legislative Conference marked Bush's public debut as a political candidate. He formally announced this month that he will run for Texas Land Commissioner in 2014 after months of mulling a campaign for a statewide office.
Bush took no big risks and avoided gaffes in a speech that reminded the audience about his nine months deployed in Afghanistan and working with at-risk students in urban schools. But he often stumbled over his words and sometimes appeared to rush through the notes in front of him.
An opening joke that discussing critical issues in a non-partisan fashion "should be easy to do, right, in today's political environment?" landed flat.
His delivery was better with a quip to the New Braunfels audience about San Antonio being the largest nearby suburb. New Braunfels has about 60,000 residents to San Antonio's more than 1 million.
Bush said he wears his U.S. Naval Reserve uniform one weekend a month for training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, and he sounded most assured and comfortable when discussing the welfare of veterans.
Among the hodgepodge of responsibilities overseen by the Texas General Land Office is veterans affairs. Bush vowed to make veterans more aware of the benefits they're entitled to if elected to land commissioner.
He specifically mentioned recent concerns among veterans that the Texas Legislature might curtail a program providing tuition exemptions for ex-military and their family because of ballooning costs.
"It's a shame there are legislators who are considering scaling back this benefit. I think we owe this commitment to our military veterans," Bush said, drawing his first applause.
No lawmakers have publicly said they want to shrink the program known as the Hazelwood Act.
Bush is the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, but kept his remarks focused on Texas.
He was mostly congratulatory of the Texas Legislature, which has struck a noticeably less rancorous tone this session than in years past. Bush cheered the Republican-controlled body for prioritizing education and expressed his support for a bill passed in the state Senate that would limit future statewide office holders to two consecutive terms.
The proposal would not apply to Gov. Rick Perry, who has not ruled out running for a fourth four-year term in 2014. Bush did not mention Perry's name during his speech.
A Spanish-speaking attorney and consultant based in Fort Worth, Bush is considered a rising star among conservative Hispanics, and his political pedigree is hard to match. He has been active in politics for years: last summer, he was promoted to deputy finance chairman of the Texas Republican Party.
Between early November and the end of 2012, Bush's campaign raised an impressive $1.3 million — even though he had yet to announce which office he would seek.
No other serious challengers have filed to run against him for land commissioner in 2014.
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