Herman: In town hall, Abbott defends the Alamo and Confederate statues

We’re just about a year from the 2018 Texas gubernatorial election. GOP Gov. Greg Abbott’s off and running and raising money. The Democrats still are kind of fishing around for a top-drawer challenger.

And, in a fundraising conference call with supporters Thursday night, Abbott might have heard a hint of two issues that could join the usual topics that come up in gubernatorial races: Confederate statues and the Alamo.

Abbott came out in favor of both.

The topics came up in calls from Abbott backers who participated in what his campaign calls a “telephone town hall.” It’s about half telethon and half Q&A with the governor. Roughly a half-hour into the call, host Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, took a call from Lanell in Kingwood, whose question started out friendly but took a challenging turn.

“Thank you,” Lanell said. “First, Gov. Abbott, thank you for all the service that you do for Texans. We appreciate you a whole bunch. What has made you decide to remove the Confederate statues? I’m offended with the removal of these historical statues.”

RELATED: Abbott, Democratic lawmaker differ on Confederate plaque meeting

Abbott, who recently met with Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, to discuss possible removal of a Confederate-friendly plaque of questionable accuracy in the Capitol, moved quickly to set the record straight.

“I’m not sure where you heard that,” Abbott told Lanell, “but I have not removed any statues or anything like that. Let me be clear what I’ve said and done. First, I have removed no statues.”

Then he talked about “a couple of core principles.”

“I think we can all agree that we’re all against racism and bigotry of any type, and my goal as governor is to eliminate racists and any type of hate-filled actions that may occur,” he said.

So that’s good. What about the various Confederate monuments on the Capitol grounds?

“But I think we can all agree and remember that our history, while it isn’t perfect, we have to learn from our history. And if we don’t learn from it, we’re doomed to repeat it,” Abbott said. “And so instead of trying to bury our past, my focus is on trying to help us to learn from it and assure it doesn’t happen again.

“And as a result, tearing down monuments will not erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future,” he said. “And, as governor, what I will focus on is advancing the future through peace and not through violence. And that’s what I have been committed to and what I will remain committed to.”

Lanell seemed satisfied, saying, “OK. OK. Well, I just had to ask that question.”

“I’m glad you did,” said the governor. “Put that down to what some people call fake news.”

About 10 minutes later, Abbott heard an impassioned plea that could foreshadow the Alamo, of all things, as a 2018 campaign issue. There are big plans for much-needed, long-overdue improvements at the Alamo and the downtown San Antonio plaza in which it stands. The plans have upset what we’ll call some Alamo traditionalists.

Caller Mickey (a female, I think, and I’m not sure of the spelling) seemed to be in that category. She told Abbott she’s “very, very concerned” about what she called the possible “desecration of the Alamo with the current plans in San Antonio drawn up by someone from New York City.”

BACKSTORY: In remembering the Alamo, George P. Bush is forced to defend himself

The caller urged Abbott to get with Land Commissioner George P. Bush — whose agency is in charge of the Alamo and who has drawn the ire of some because of the Alamo plans — to make sure everybody knows that “what is important about the Alamo is it was a group of men who were willing to die for their beliefs.”

“Nobody gives a royal rip about what happened 400 years before, if somebody dug some ditches and had an irrigation system,” she told Abbott. “Don’t let them destroy our Alamo. … People love the Alamo. People love being a Texan. And I hate to see that diluted or possibly negated with the new plans for the Alamo. I think we’re very vulnerable there. And we have to make sure that as Republicans we protect Texas.”

So there it is, the Alamo as potentially partisan election issue.

What say you, governor?

“I hear your concerns, and I agree completely with exactly what you said,” he told the caller, “and that I will work vigorously to make sure that the ideas and ideals that you just articulated are going to be protected.”

Then he sought to pump up his Alamo cred by telling the woman he has Alamo-related paintings in his Capitol office and the Governor’s Mansion.

“As a native Texan myself, I know what it means to be a Texan. I know what the Battle of the Alamo means, not just to Texans but to the entire world,” he said.

He wrapped up by road-testing what could become campaign trail rhetoric if the Alamo becomes an issue: “I will not back off or back down from ensuring that our state treasure, the Alamo, is going to send the clarion message that it is intended to send. And that is that that is sacred ground, sacred ground that holds the lives of those who sacrificed for our state.

“And I will ensure that the rendering of the Alamo, when the renovation is done, is going to tell the story that you and I know is the truth about what Texas stands for.”

Interesting. Could we be headed for an intraparty squabble between Abbott and Bush on the Alamo’s future? And could the Alamo become a general election issue, assuming the Democrats actually do field a viable challenger?

RELATED: Why Texas leaders erected Confederate monuments at the Capitol

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