Dawn Buckingham, M.D.

Ninth-Generation Texan Leads The General Land Office

Before she was a surgeon, she was a volunteer firefighter. Her favorite song is “A Few More Rednecks” by the Charlie Daniels Band. She loves to fish, drives a red Ford F250 (diesel, she specifies), is responsible for restoring the Alamo, and, by the way, manages the 13 million acres of state land that fund the largest educational endowment in the United States. Meet the first female Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office: Dr. Dawn Buckingham.

“The General Land Office (GLO) is the tip of the spear for the state of Texas, charged with protecting our resources, our border and our history,” says Commissioner Buckingham. Created in 1836, GLO was formed to “work through overlapping land grants, literally be the keeper of the maps,” that determined who owned what after the Texians and Tejanos won independence from Mexico. The office of the Commissioner predates the office of Governor.

Commissioner Buckingham indoors at the Alamo, San Antonio, Texas. Photos courtesy of GLO.
Commissioner Buckingham indoors at the Alamo, San Antonio, Texas. Photos courtesy of GLO.

“Generally, unclaimed land in newly organized western states belonged to the federal government,” Buckingham explains. “Because the nation of Texas already owned all unclaimed land, that land stayed with the state when we joined the United States.” GLO manages this land to fund the Permanent School Fund (PSF), which was established in 1845. The $55 billion PSF is currently the largest educational endowment in the United States. This means that Buckingham and her 800-person team are the revenue source for over $2 billion to public schools annually, paying for schools, textbooks and technology. The PSF further provides a AAA credit rating backing up local school districts’ bonds, which saves local Texas taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in interest expense when funding school improvements.

Texas produces 42.5 percent of crude oil in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. (For comparison, New Mexico is second, with 13.3 percent.) GLO manages the oil, gas and mineral leases that produce income for the state. Revenue that flows to the public schools also comes from electricity generated from some of Texas’ enormous natural gas reserves, which is sold to public entities at a low rate that still earns revenue for the PSF.

A new line of business for GLO is the sale of carbon dioxide sequestration leases to businesses in Texas that want to achieve carbon neutrality. The initial sale in 2023 resulted in $133 million for the PSF in one day.

Commissioner Buckingham on Galveston Island, Texas, at Adopt a Beach.
Commissioner Buckingham on Galveston Island, Texas, at Adopt a Beach.

Commissioner Buckingham says, “Over the next 25 years, we anticipate approximately $10 billion in carbon storage fees will support the Texas education system.” She notes that “anybody can participate” in the state’s carbon sequestration sales and mentions ExxonMobil, Repsol and bp among the buyers in 2023.

Part of being the “tip of the spear” is defending the energy industry and related jobs for Texans. Under Buckingham, GLO led the way in suing the federal government over the recent federal ban on permitting LNG exports. Calling this ban “an outright assault on our fossil fuels” by President Biden, she continues, “I promised Texans to manage the 13 million acres of state land wisely and efficiently. The halt on new exports will steal from Texas schoolchildren and lead our country further away from true energy independence. I cannot allow that to happen under my watch.”

As Commissioner of the General Land Office, Buckingham is also chair of the Texas Veterans Land Board (TVLB). This organization provides low-cost home purchase and home improvement loans, operates nine long-term care homes for veterans, manages and maintains four Texas State Veterans Cemeteries, and is responsible for the Voices of Veterans Oral History Program. She takes special joy in serving veterans, noting that, “We’re the only state that offers a mortgage program for veterans that’s additional to federal programs. So far in 2024, we’ve closed 430 home loans totaling $170 million.”

Commissioner Buckingham and her husband, Ed Buckingham, at the Alamo, San Antonio, Texas.
Commissioner Buckingham and her husband, Ed Buckingham, at the Alamo, San Antonio, Texas.

In her 15 months on the job, Commissioner Buckingham has used every tool at her disposal to help veterans, including social media. “I got a note last year from a gentleman about to turn 100 years old in one of our homes. He wrote that he wished for 100 cards on his birthday. Our office put the word out on social media, and hundreds of cards came in. Soon after, another gentleman reaching the century mark made the same request, and he got over 1,000 cards. Then, a woman veteran from East Texas contacted us, and over 7,000 cards from all over the world arrived to celebrate her 100th birthday! Now, my staff is proactively tracking our residents to make sure that every 100th birthday is celebrated, and I’m so proud that Texans respond. They want to be helpful.”

Commissioner Buckingham also praises the “crowds of beautiful Texans who show up” for the funerals of veterans without family. “We post notice of an Unaccompanied Veteran Burial and, if we aren’t certain someone is attending to receive the service member’s flag, we send a member of staff. We honor and respect our veterans and make sure none of them are left behind.”

Preservation and restoration of the Alamo is yet another responsibility of the Land Commissioner, who wants the site to reflect the full 300-year history of this site. Alamo Plaza is now closed to automobile traffic to “restore reverence” to the place where Texians and Tejanos lived, fought and died. Stabilization of the church and barracks from centuries of water damage are a top priority, and work is now underway.

GLO border land.
GLO border land.

A new visitors’ center is under development, to include a collection center for artifacts, a 100,000 square foot museum to teach future generations about the significance of Texas liberty, and a 4D movie theater. This theater will include special effects such as shaking seats and smoky smells to help visiting school children appreciate and “experience” the battle. Overall, this project is budgeted at $550 million and is scheduled to open in 2026. Beyond the immediate area, a future Alamo District will pedestrianize adjacent streets to the Alamo Plaza, creating beautiful walking paths that will connect to the River Walk.

When asked what led her to run for Commissioner, Buckingham said, “I’m a proud ninth-generation Texan with deep family roots in farming and ranching. I grew up in League City and central Texas, went to medical school at UTMB-Galveston with my husband, and opened a practice outside of Austin. I truly felt called to serve people. As an oculoplastic surgeon, I became a leader in several medical organizations and served as a voice against further federal involvement in medicine when Obamacare was first proposed.”

She took what she describes as “small steps,” first serving on a school board before being appointed one of two “regular citizen members” to the Texas Sunset Commission in 2015. This organization’s purpose is to eliminate duplication, waste or inefficiency in over 130 state agencies.

Commissioner Buckingham traveling to Fronton Island, Texas (GLO island on the southern border).
Commissioner Buckingham traveling to Fronton Island, Texas (GLO island on the southern border).

“We asked things like, ‘Should these agencies still exist? Has the mission changed? Are they still useful? If so, how can this agency serve Texas better?’” The Sunset Commission reports that every dollar spent on its review process has earned the state $25 in return.

When Buckingham’s state senator declined to run again, she decided to run for the office. Her experience on the Sunset Commission led her to believe that “being an internal voice for change is far stronger than working from outside.” She became the first woman elected to serve in Senate District 24. “I thought, I can help one person at a time in my clinic as a physician. I can help millions more [by being] inside the legislature.” Interestingly, after winning her Senate seat, she again served on the Sunset Commission, this time as one of the 10 elected members.

“I believe Texas values are rural values, and are what makes Texas special,” Buckingham says when asked about her run for Land Commissioner. “I love fishing, ranching – anything outdoors – and I want to protect this land and make it work for the next generation.”

Looking forward, Commissioner Buckingham and GLO will be working closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Coastal Spine project. This project will protect 3,300 miles of the Texas Gulf Coast, from Louisiana to the Mexico border, from storm surges and hurricanes. Noting that over six million of Texas’ 29 million residents live along the coast, Buckingham highlighted both ecological restoration and advanced engineering that will be deployed to improve resilience.

Commissioner Buckingham touring GLO timberlands in East Texas.
Commissioner Buckingham touring GLO timberlands in East Texas.

Examples of ecological restoration include wetland preservation, habitat renewal, dune restoration, and other “living shoreline” projects that mitigate flooding and erosion from storm surges. These types of projects also protect biodiversity and store carbon. Engineering solutions include levees, storm gates, and other mechanized flood control systems to protect low-lying inland areas from devastation.

Buckingham mentions a personal connection she has to the damage that flooding and storm surges create. In her home, she treasures a desk that survived the 1900 Great Storm in Galveston. The desk, from her great-grandparent’s home, floated down the staircase from the second story and was later recovered.

“I’m reminded every day of the impact storms have on communities,” she says. At a cost of at least $30 billion, “The goal of the Coastal Spine is to protect Texans, their homes and businesses, from Louisiana to the Mexican border,” Buckingham says, noting that, “This is the single largest project ever undertaken by the Corps of Engineers and will take decades.”

Asked to sum up her leadership approach, Commissioner Buckingham says, “Serve who you’re supposed to serve. That’s my job. At the end of the day, I want to be remembered as a tough Texas lady who’s working every day to make the lives of Texans better.”

The Texas Veterans Land Board (TVLB)

Chaired by Commissioner Buckingham, the Texas Veterans Land Board (TVLB), offers several significant programs for veterans which readers and their families may find helpful.

  • Texas State Veterans Homes offer affordable, long-term skilled nursing and memory care for veterans, spouses and Gold Star parents. On-site therapies include speech, occupational, physical, equine, pet, music, writing, art and PTS support. Homes are located in Amarillo, Big Spring, Bonham, El Paso, Floresville, Houston, McAllen, Temple and Tyler. A new home in Fort Worth will open in 2024.
  • Voices of Veterans Oral History Program preserves the stories of men and women who served our nation for future generations. Interviews can take place in person or via telephone.
  • VLB Home Loan Program offers fixed rate 30-year home mortgages up to $766,550. No down payment is required when used in conjunction with a VA loan guarantee. Veterans with a service-connected disability receive a discounted interest rate. Over 430 families have been helped in FY 2024 to date.
  • VLB Land Loan Program offers up to $150,000 in land loans, with five percent down and a fixed interest rate. In FY 2024, 392 land loans have closed to date. Veterans-only land sale occurs four times a year (January, April, July and October). Tracts not sold to veterans are then offered to the general public.
  • Texas State Veterans Cemeteries, which do not charge for interment of veterans, spouses or eligible dependents, are located in Abilene, Corpus Christi, Killeen and Mission. An additional cemetery will open in Lubbock in 2025.

The TVLB and the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) operate a statewide call center that serves over 4,000 callers per month. If a veteran you know needs assistance, contact:

  • 800-252-8387
  • Open 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
  • Texas Veteran specialists return calls within one business day.


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Elizabeth Wilder is a freelance writer based in Houston, Texas.

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