AUSTIN (KXAN) – The race for Land Commissioner pivots around the most famous site in Texas — the Alamo.
Texans go to the polls for primary elections on March 6, the same date is also the 182nd anniversary of the fall of the Alamo. Normally, they would not be connected but this year they are in one of the hottest primary races in Texas.
Incumbent Land Commissioner George P. Bush is fighting off a blast from the past. His predecessor, Jerry Patterson, wants his job back in part because of a needed but controversial revamp of the historical site. Specifically, whether to move the cenotaph – the gravestone of the Alamo defenders.
It’s described as a carnival. The hustle and bustle of wax museums, weird wonders of the world, and ever-present tour buses rumbling past the shrine of Texas liberty.
The proposal from the Land Office and the City of San Antonio calls for buying up surrounding properties, building a new Alamo museum, restoring the mission and long-barracks, shutting down the public streets to preserve the original battleground, all in order to “re-imagine the Alamo.”
“We don’t need to re-imagine the Alamo. We need to remember, revere and respect the Alamo,” said Jerry Patterson.
One of Patterson’s beefs with the plan is whether to move a key monument.
The granite cenotaph stands as the gravestone for the Texans that died there in 1836. Under the plan, it could be moved to the entrance for the reclaimed battlefield or to a location blocks away where Mexican soldiers burned the bodies.
“The casual average visitor who comes here and whether it’s time or just lack of knowledge, they aren’t going to see it. That’s why it needs to stay,” said Patterson.
Commissioner Bush and his campaign team didn’t grant us an interview on this story. However, late last year he had to defend his idea to skeptical state senators who approved $75 million state tax dollars for the plan.
“The cenotaph will always stand. It will always be on the grounds of the Alamo,” Bush told the Senate Finance Committee. He described how tour buses rumbling past have caused structural damage.
Since the monument actually sits on city land, he couldn’t commit to a specific plan for them. Bush is waiting for a design firm to come up with details in summer or fall.
“It needs to be updated. It’s actually missing five names of original Alamo defenders that’s been uncovered by science,” Bush told the senators.
But one aspect of the master plan caught some people off guard. The re-imagined site would include more exhibits on indigenous people and life before the famous battle. Senators wanted a commitment, that changes would not shift the focus away from the battle itself.
“Is the Alamo significant for the battle that occurred in 1836? Is that the primary significance of the Alamo in your program?” asked Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R- Houston.
Commissioner Bush told him, “Yes.”
“Absent 1836, this would be a condo or a high rise or a parking lot,” said Patterson. If elected, his focus would be on the battle — not any calls for inclusion and unity.
“We don’t need to promote unity. We just need to tell the story. And if you’re talking about unity between Tejanos and Anglos, just look on this monument and read the Tejano names here,” Patterson said pointing to the Tejano names on the cenotaph.
To the question of: Is this less about the Alamo and more about Jerry Patterson? Is it more about Bush took the GLO in a different direction and Patterson doesn’t like it?
“I don’t mind different direction. I mind wrong direction,” Patterson said.
A spokesman from the Bush campaign responded via email. Lee Spieckerman told KXAN Bush believes it is crucial to ensure Texans can give input and contribute to the final plan and has hired a firm to facilitate the process.
They also fired the same architectural firm which revamped Stonehenge in England, the Roman Coliseum and the U.S. Supreme Court Building.
As to criticism from Patterson?
“Jerry Patterson – whose campaign has failed to gain any traction in the polls or fundraising because he’s an entrenched politician with no new ideas – has brought the stench of politics to our sacred Alamo,” wrote Spieckerman. “Commissioner Bush deeply believes that the Alamo is above politics.”
A spokesperson from the GLO said the plan for the cenotaph is a small part of the entire revamp.
Another big issue driving complaints about the Alamo project is lack of transparency.
Commissioner Bush created three non-profits to oversee the Alamo Master Plan. While state tax dollars are used to pay for 60 to 70 employees, much of the information is not under the Open Records Act.
Bush has put financial information and meeting minutes online.
Patterson doesn’t trust all the information is there.