Jerry Patterson, the controversial Texas Land Commissioner who has held that position for ten years, is garnering national attention with his run to become the state’s next Lieutenant Governor.
As a 65-year-old former Marine and state senator, Patterson is known for his straight-shootin’ (and often profane) talk, his fanatical support for the Second Amendment, and for being either oblivious to or utterly disregarding political correctness. Combined, this earned him a reputation as a “concealed-weapon-wieldin’, tobacco-dippin’, NRA-supportin’, libertarian yahoo bent on selling off Texas’s precious public lands to private developers,” TEXAS MONTHLY‘s S.C. Gwynne wrote in 2008.
Manny Fernandez, the New York Times‘s Houston-based correspondent, profiled Patterson in a Thursday story in the paper, writing:
Jerry Patterson is an authentic Texas politician, at a time when Texas politicians rarely act like Texas politicians. State elected officials and those trying to unseat them sue and countersue, carefully watch what they say, and are quick to apologize when they fail to do so.
His career has been a fruitful one: While a state senator, Patterson authored the state’s 1995 concealed handgun law, the Texas Home Equity Freedom Act, and the Texas Coastal Management Plan. During his time as land commissioner, the amount of business the General Land Office (“a bureau that essentially acts as Texas’s realtor,” according to Gwynne) handles has exploded. Patterson helped push the office’s direct investment in real estate and real estate funds, and home loans awarded to veterans, each over the billion-dollar mark.
But he’s also been no stranger to controversy. His audacious proposal to sell the Christmas Mountains to private interests in 2007—which Texas got for free from the Richard King Mellon Foundation in 1991—and his surprise decision, after a fiery “lobby fight,” as he called it, with hard-core conservationists across the country, to not sell it to private interests or cede any ground to the public, sent a tidal wave of confused frustration through the state, a conflict Gwynne recounted in his 2008 profile. Patterson also famously challenged state representative Wayne Christian’s proposed tweaks to the state Open Beaches Act, an act many viewed as self-serving.
And let us not forget his infamous wit–he recently called the proposal to add the dunes sagebrush lizard to the endangered species list, which would have blocked Patterson’s gas drilling plans, “reptile dysfunction.”
“He’s really not like anybody else. In a state of blunt talk, Jerry stands out as the bluntest of the blunt,” Republican strategist Ted Delisi told Fernandez.
“Yet,” wrote Gwynne, “he is not the swaggering, unthinking ideologue his enemies would have you believe he is.” A supporter of a proposed Texas license plate bearing the Confederate stars and bars (Patterson’s great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier), Patterson also backed a bill in 1997 that “established the Juneteenth Commission, which eventually led to a commemoration on the grounds of the Capitol of the freeing of slaves in Texas, in 1865,” Gwynne wrote.
At Progress Texas, Matt Glazer saw the article as a bit of a victory lap for his organization’s successful effort to keep the Confederate license plate from being passed, though his blog post crowed that “they” (i.e. the New York Times) “call Patterson … ‘racially insensitive’ and ‘unable to govern a state like ours,'” when in fact, those words came from Glazer himself, who was quoted in Fernandez’s story.
If Patterson is anything, he is unpredictable. But while his personality is packed with Texas grit and shoot-from-the-hip bravado, Patterson also seems to have a healthy dose of perspective about his place in history: “The walls of the Capitol are filled with pictures of men and women who were the most powerful Texas leaders of their time, but history has forgotten their names. To all my colleagues, I would remind them: we’re just passing through history—but we can make a difference while we’re here,” Patterson said, according to Fernandez.
The very existence of profile led James Henson of the Texas Politics project to quip on Twitter “@Patterson4TX profile in NY TIMES.; at last report, Balcones Fault still stable, Earth remains on axis. #txlege”