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Texas officials are at odds over repairs to the Alamo

The Alamo, in San Antonio, Texas.

WADE ALLEN, GATEHOUSE MEDIA/TNS

By ROBERT T. GARRETT | The Dallas Morning News | Published: March 6, 2020

AUSTIN, Texas (Tribune News Service) — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday accused Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush of mismanaging state efforts to restore the Alamo.

Patrick said in a written statement that the project in downtown San Antonio “is badly off track.”

He accused Bush, a fellow Republican statewide officeholder, of having “wasted significant public dollars on designs which most Texans would immediately reject.”

Patrick said he’s seen two architectural renderings, and both are flops.

“The latest looks like a massive urban park with hundreds of trees — more like Central Park in New York City than Alamo Plaza,” he said.

Late Thursday, Bush spokeswoman Karina Erickson said Bush welcomes Patrick’s suggestions – and in fact, already has incorporated some into his plans to “reunify” now-divided pieces of the “sacred ground.”

“Lt. Governor Patrick brings up many great ideas — ideas that are already incorporated in the Alamo Plan, including the intent to restore the Alamo Church and Battleground to the 1836 time period,” she said in a written statement.

The lieutenant governor asked Bush and the General Land Office he directs to “release all designs,” and for “transparency to finally be injected into the process.”

Patrick said he wants the restoration effort to include a “world-class visitor center” and to focus on the March 6, 1836, battle that occurred in the Catholic mission between Texas settlers and the Mexican Army — “not the 200-year history of early Spanish settlement in Texas.” San Antonio’s Mission Trail does a good job on that, he said.

Erickson, the Bush spokeswoman, did not directly respond to Patrick’s allegation that tax dollars on design have been wasted, though she did not that all architectural renderings of the “last iteration” are available on SaveTheAlamo.com.

“As we move forward with phase one of the Plan, Commissioner Bush will continue to demand that the focal point be the battle of 1836 and the Defenders who gave their lives against a government that became tyrannical in their pursuit for control,” she said.

She noted that the plan already includes “the intent to restore the Alamo Church and Battleground to the 1836 time period.”

In his statement, Patrick noted that he was speaking up on the eve of the 184th anniversary of the battle at the Alamo.

“Nothing defines the independent and the courageous spirit of Texas more than our iconic Alamo and, like most Texans, I treasure it,” Patrick said. “The history of the Alamo is a personal passion of mine. I do not intend to sit quietly and see this project fail.”

The 2015 Legislature approved funds for preserving the Alamo and rebuilding the downtown plaza, Patrick noted. Lawmakers intended for Texans and others to be able to “see the battlefield as it was” in 1836, he said.

The plaza should resemble “as closely as possible” the actual fort, Patrick said.

That should include a barricade Davy Crockett defended, the front gate, a room where Jim Bowie was killed, the west wall, a house inside the fort where Texas Army Lt. Col. William B. Travis “likely wrote his letters,” and a long barracks where the fort’s defenders made their last stand, Patrick wrote.

A monument dedicated in 1940 should be repaired, Patrick said. But he added, “I have yet to hear a good explanation of why the Cenotaph must be moved.”

He ended with a thinly veiled threat that he might work to remove oversight authority from Bush.

“If the General Land Office cannot handle this important job, and to date it does not appear it can, I will recommend we identify another entity to provide oversight.”

Controversy has dogged what was anticipated would be a four-year, $450 million public-private makeover of Alamo Plaza to include construction of a museum.

In December, critics told the San Antonio Historic and Design Review Commission that they had heard reports — emphatically denied by Bush — that the restoration would include placing a statue of Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna in the plaza.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, Bush pushed back. In a post on Facebook, he called a similar version of the rumor, that he personally wanted a Santa Anna statue erected, “an outright lie” that was “flat-out racist.”

Bush’s mother is a native of Mexico and a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Bush, scion of a fabled GOP dynasty that has produced two presidents and two governors, including his father, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, has been said by Republican operatives to be interested in running someday for lieutenant governor or governor.

Bush, 43, won his first term as land commissioner in 2014 — the same year Patrick, a two-term state senator from Houston and northwest Harris County, moved up to lieutenant governor.

Patrick, 69, announced last year that he would seek a third term as the Senate’s presiding officer in 2020.

Bush hinted of aspirations for higher office late last year in an interview with The Dallas Morning News.

Asked if he is looking to climb the political ladder, Bush replied, “We’ll see. I love Texas policy, so I really don’t see myself running for federal office."

Bush — co-founder of Fort Worth-based St. Augustine Partners LLC, an investment firm focused on oil and gas transactions and consulting for private business — cited a lesson learned from his business career: Work hard, do right and doors will open.

“So, I think opportunities will exist down the road to serve in a higher role,” he said.

Asked Thursday about his plans, a Bush spokeswoman directed a reporter to an Oct. 2 statement by J. R. Hernandez, Bush’s senior adviser.

“Over the last few months, several activists and donors have asked Commissioner Bush to consider higher office in Texas,” Hernandez said.

“At this time he is 100% focused on doing his job as land commissioner. While he wouldn’t challenge current Governor Abbott or Lieutenant Governor Patrick, if an opening presents itself he would absolutely consider serving Texans in a higher role. When that moment arises, he’s ready.”

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