- Jonathan Tilove American-Statesman Staff
A demonstration Saturday to “Save the Alamo Cenotaph” morphed into a rally to defeat Land Commissioner George P. Bush for re-election in 2018.
“They kind of go hand-in-hand,” said Lee Spencer White, founder of the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association. White called Saturday’s rally to challenge a master plan for redesigning the Alamo site, which includes restoring the 1836 battlefield that is now a public plaza owned by the city of San Antonio and moving the cenotaph honoring the “defenders” who died there to a different location.
“The buck stops with him,” White said of Bush, who is overseeing the Alamo redevelopment project and, along with San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, has the final say. “Obviously, he wants to move the cenotaph.”
Most of the handful of speakers at the rally, which drew a noontime crowd of about 150 people, aimed fire at Bush, with Rick Range, a well-known figure among Alamo buffs in Texas, noting that the 2018 GOP primary falls on March 6, the 182nd anniversary of the fateful battle in which the 189 defenders perished. The battle cry for next March 6, he said, should be to defeat Bush.
Noting that cenotaph means “empty tomb,” Range said that it should remain where the men whose names are etched on the massive memorial died.
“The cenotaph is in the perfect place,” he said. “It shouldn’t be moved an inch.”
“This is fake news,” said Ash Wright, Bush’s political director. “Commissioner Bush is completely committed to preserving the Alamo and telling the story of the battle.”
“One of the considerations is where should the cenotaph be once the battlefield is recreated around the Alamo,” Wright said. “No final decisions have been made.”
Last month, the Texas Republican Party’s executive committee passed a resolution critical of how Bush’s General Land Office was handling the redevelopment of the Alamo.
Mindful of the criticism, Bush’s re-election campaign launched a new website, AlamoTruth.com, and an extensive radio ad campaign touting Bush’s record on the Alamo.
“As explained on AlamoTruth.com, the cenotaph will always be honored and it will always be a central focus of the Alamo,” Wright said.
The ultimate decision on where to move the cenotaph, which is owned by the city of San Antonio, rests with Nirenberg. Under the redevelopment plan, the city will convey the plaza to the state.
“I am in favor of moving it,” Nirenberg said of the cenotaph, which was placed in a prominent spot in front the state’s most visited historic site in 1939, and which, he said, needs to be disassembled and repaired.
Of the move, Nirenberg said, “I’m open to hearing objections, but to this point, they don’t outweigh the needs for making sure it’s secure in a different site.”
Ray Myers, a tea party activist who traveled from Kaufman County to address the rally, described Nirenberg as a “radical leftist” and Bush as “wishy-washy,” and said both need to be defeated.
“This cenotaph represents us, the people of Texas and our heroes who died here, and the left is trying to drive a stake through the heart of Texas,” Myers said. “If they move this, that’s what they’ll do.”
One candidate already running to defeat Bush in the primary attended the rally, but did not speak.
A land surveyor, Davey Edwards of Decatur, said he had contemplated running for land commissioner in 2014 but had not yet quite completed his doctorate in geosciences at the time. He has since — thus the “Dr.” prefix he uses before his name in his campaign materials.
“He seems like a nice guy,” White said of Edwards. But, she said, “Before we hang our hat on one candidate, we would like to see several candidates. At the end of the day we want the right guy.”
Dec. 12 is the filing deadline for primary candidates.
“We’re working frantically” to pick a candidate, White said.
Jerry Patterson, Bush’s predecessor as land commissioner and occasional critic, attended the rally but did not speak.
Alma Arredondo-Lynch, a Uvalde dentist who is challenging U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, for Congress in the Republican primary, arrived with her horse and took the stage to join in the denunciations of Bush.
In her remarks, White said that Bush, whose father, Jeb, was governor of Florida — but who was born in Houston and graduated from Rice University and the University of Texas Law School — should return to Florida to “save the manatee,” and leave saving the Alamo to Texans.
Of the rally, White said, “I wanted to test the waters and, we had a resounding ‘yes.’ People care.”