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For the record, the Texas Historical Commission voted 12-2 last week to prevent the planned relocation of the Cenotaph in Alamo Plaza, but the only real no vote was cast early in the proceedings by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
The THC commissioners have avoided a final decision on the requested permit for nearly one year, amid rumors that Patrick threatened to cut THC funding in the next budget if commissioners ignored his wishes. That seemed to lead to one delay after another as the THC stalled on a final hearing and vote.
On Monday, with no room for further delay, commissioners presided over a 9-hour online melodrama that felt like a fix from the very start.
Patrick, whose speech often employed the bombast he perfected years ago as a conservative talk radio personality, knows a thing or two about controlling the microphone. For nearly 19 minutes at the outset of Monday’s day-long Zoom hearing, he was given extraordinary license to address the citizens who serve on the commission and all who tuned in from around the state.
It was a mix of myth, hyperbole, and hokum.
“It was the most important 13 days in the history of Texas and Western civilization,” Patrick said of the Battle of the Alamo. “We wouldn’t be in the Texas we’re in today if it weren’t for those men who died.”
So much for ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the rise of Christianity, Reformation and the Renaissance, European colonization and the African slave trade, and two world wars in the 20th century.
“I guarantee you if Bowie, Travis, and Crockett were here and they had a vote, if you asked them, ‘Where do you think the monument should be built to honor the men who died with you?’ they would not say in enemy territory outside the walls. They would say find a place here, in the fort that we defended and died for,” Patrick said as he closed his remarks.
Some 300 other people, including elected officials, signed up to speak, but were told they would have a maximum of one minute. About one-third did so, extending the hearing from morning into evening.
The three people representing the City of San Antonio and the Alamo Trust – U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes), City Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), and San Antonio Assistant City Manager Lori Houston – were kept waiting until the end of the hearing to make their case for moving the Cenotaph.
Alas, the City and nonprofit Alamo Trust, overseen by the Texas General Land Office never stood a chance. They were outgunned and surrounded from start to bloody finish. Perhaps that explains why Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who is loathed by Patrick, played no visible role in Monday’s proceedings.
Patrick first took aim at Bush last December after Bush fell victim to a Facebook disinformation campaign launched by Rick Range, a rightwing former political opponent who started a group called Save the Alamo. The group falsely accused Bush of planning to erect a statue of Mexican dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna in the Alamo Plaza.
Patrick attacked Bush in the wake of that false charge after the land commissioner said the attack on him was racist. Since then, Patrick has continued to issue statements critical of the redevelopment plan and the GLO’s management, although the GLO only oversees the Alamo. The City of San Antonio oversees the plaza.
The marble monument erected for the 1936 Texas Centennial honors the Texans who died in the 1836 Battle of the Alamo. It does not contain human remains, and an assertion by THC Chairman John Nau on Monday that the Cenotaph stands on the very ground where Texans died in the battle is subject to historical debate and dispute.
Alamo CEO Doug McDonald chose not to seek a contract renewal, which ends this month, leaving the project without a leading executive. He and others have long held that restoring and moving the Cenotaph is an essential first step in redevelopment of the plaza and the battlefield.
Treviño and others have repeatedly said not moving the Cenotaph would bring the entire redevelopment project to an end. Patrick and various commissioners challenged that assertion, and one week later, it appears local officials will regroup and attempt to restart the project, though what that means is anybody’s guess at this juncture.
One thing local officials can count on going forward as they continue to seek THC permits each step of the way: the lieutenant governor casts the first vote.