Facing a runoff for the Democratic nomination for Texas Land Commissioner, Jay Kleberg waded into the politically charged waters of the Alamo redevelopment plan, saying he wants to make the site a tribute to all the Texans who’ve made history there, including indigenous groups and civil rights activists. 

Kleberg is in a May 24 runoff against San Antonio clinical therapist Sandragrace Martinez, who finished first among four Democrats in the March 1 primary. 

The winner will face one of two Republicans also vying for the role that oversees state land and disaster recovery funds and has administrative authority over the Alamo. The office is currently held by Republican George P. Bush, who is running for attorney general in the GOP primary runoff against incumbent Ken Paxton. 

“We need to make sure that the focus of the Alamo and the telling of its story is not just 1836, but also going back thousands of years and what happened on that site,” Kleberg told the San Antonio Report at a Cinco de Mayo rally for Democratic candidates in Roosevelt Park on Thursday. 

Kleberg said he hopes to incorporate the stories of “indigenous groups that lived there,” as well as elements of San Antonio’s civil rights movement that occurred in Alamo Plaza. The lunch counter in the Woolworth Building, which will be part of a new Alamo museum and visitor center, was among the first to integrate by serving Black patrons in March 1960.

“Not all a lot of people know” about it, Kleberg said, “but that’s part of that history there in the plaza.”

Jay Kleberg is running to become the next Texas Land Commissioner.
Jay Kleberg is running to become the next Texas Land Commissioner. Credit: Courtesy / Jay Kleberg Campaign

The most recent initiative to redevelop the Alamo site has been in the works since 2014. But the collaboration among the City of San Antonio, the General Land Office and the nonprofit Alamo Trust was dragged into the political spotlight in 2020 when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick objected to many of the ideas put forth in the evolving plans. 

Patrick sided with protesters who objected to a plan to relocate the Cenotaph, a 1930s-era monument to the Alamo defenders, and the Texas Historical Commission ultimately denied the city’s request to move it 500 feet south. And in July 2021, Patrick told Bullock Texas State History Museum officials to shut down a panel discussion about a book, Forget the Alamo, that reexamines the site’s history and the role of slavery in the war for Texas independence.

The path forward has been a point of contention for both parties’ candidates for land commissioner, who laid out a wide range of ideas ahead of the March primary. 

“One of the things that I’m focused on is making sure that the community leads first” on the Alamo renovation, Kleberg said, referring to plans put forth by the city and a citizens advisory committee.

Kleberg, a conservationist and King Ranch heir, announced plans to run for the Democratic nomination in November 2021. He spent about $680,000 on that race, and finished second in the primary with 26% of the vote to Martinez’s 32%. 

Martinez, who raised and spent much less on the race, chalked up an even bigger lead in her home of Bexar County, 44% to Kleberg’s 22%. A third Democrat, Austin community organizer Jinny Suh, took 437 fewer votes than Kleberg, who also lives in Austin.

At Thursday’s gathering of party loyalists, many in the crowd seemed unfamiliar with Martinez, who ran for City Council in 2017 under a different name. She finished seventh in a field of 10 and took 642 votes. 

“Is this a seminar or a Bexar County Democrat Party rally?” she joked, seeking to energize the crowd before launching into a campaign pitch about her San Antonio roots and Mexican immigrant parents.  

“We’ve taken over a lot of these tickets, and it’s about time,” said Martinez, referring to Hispanic women candidates. She called the Texas Land Office a “good old boys club,” and drew some cheers for criticizing the Supreme Court’s reported plans to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Martinez did not respond to requests for an interview via the phone number and email address listed on her website.

Kleberg sought the Republican nomination for a seat in the state legislature in 2010, finishing second among three candidates.

He’s been working to win over liberal allies ahead of his Democratic runoff against Martinez, touting endorsements from the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood.

“We’re just trying to build a broad campaign to actually get through this runoff,” he said of the effort.

Kleberg previously ran a nonprofit aimed at raising money to preserve public lands, and is campaigning primarily on his work on environmental issues.

As land commissioner, he said he hopes to expand renewable energy production on the General Land Office’s 30 million acres, which are currently dominated by oil and gas production.

“If we do it right, we can actually create jobs and we can lead in a low emission future,” he said of the office.  

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Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.