AUSTIN — Lawmakers and witnesses before a Senate hearing Tuesday dismissed as quixotic Sen. Donna Campbell’s bill to protect the Alamo in San Antonio from United Nations control.
Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said she is concerned that the historic Texas shrine could fall under U.N. control despite evidence that there is no threat of the battle-worn structure falling into foreign hands.
Still, she testified before the Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee for her bill that would ban foreign entities from owning, operating or managing the state’s shrine, which fell to the Mexican army 179 years ago in one of the battles that led to Texas independence from Mexico.
“The Alamo is the story of Texas, and it should be owned, operated, maintained and controlled by Texans,” Campbell said. “That commitment on the part of the Texas Legislature should be unwavering, unending and nonpartisan.”
The Alamo and four other San Antonio missions are being nominated for UNESCO’s World Heritage designation, which Campbell told the committee was “not necessarily” an honor. There are currently no historic sites in Texas that are on that list, but there are 22 around the United States, including the Statue of Liberty.
“I can tell you anything that starts with U.N. gives me cause for concern,” Campbell said.
The city of San Antonio and Bexar County support the designation.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, asked Campbell what kind of support she had from San Antonio. Campbell told the committee, “I don’t know.”
“The only people who have talked to me about the bill have opposed it, and that’s why I assumed you had some support for it,” Zaffirini said.
Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, a member of the committee, said he was concerned that Campbell’s bill would send the wrong message to UNESCO.
According to UNESCO, a site that is selected for the World Heritage List is still the property of the country where it is located.
“Being designated as a World Heritage Site is a huge accomplishment for the Alamo and the other four missions,” Uresti said. “Nobody wants to put a damper on that.”
Campbell did not bring anyone before the committee to testify. And academics suggest that the legislation may be a nod to tea party constituents.
Campbell said she had not met with the city of San Antonio or the General Land Office.
Republican Sen. Craig Estes of Wichita Falls told Campbell that he couldn’t imagine the Alamo being overtaken by a foreign entity.
“I get where you’re coming from, but I’m trying to figure out what problem we’re trying to solve here,” he said.
Larry Laine, chief clerk of the General Land Office, told the committee that Land Commissioner George P. Bush, a Republican, has no interest in selling the Alamo and no authority to do so.
Meanwhile, an economic impact study commissioned by Bexar County found that World Heritage designation could result in more than $100 million in economic activity, 1,000 local jobs and $2 million in hotel and restaurant tax revenue, according to Shannon Miller, director of the city of San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation.
“This would be huge for San Antonio,” Miller told the panel. “World Heritage designation does not involve any change of ownership of any of the properties, and all current landowners would be unchanged.
“The fact that there isn’t a World Heritage Site in the great state of Texas is a shame,” Miller said.
Campbell’s bill was left pending in committee. The senator closed the hearing with the famous Texas battle cry.
“I do have a problem with someone coming against a bill that supports and protects the shrine of Texas known as the Alamo,” Campbell said. “I would ask you all to remember the Alamo.”