State Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg) emphasized that the bill, House Bill (HB) 3013, would not discount the three-century breadth of history surrounding the site. Instead, it would ensure that exhibits and displays at the Alamo “prominently feature” three things: the story of the 1836 battle, the history of the Texians and Tejanos who fought there, and the grievances to the Mexican federal government listed in the Texas Declaration of Independence.
“This legislation does not exclude discussing topics other than the battle of 1836. History does not occur in a vacuum, and talking about the Alamo from its founding to the present day has its place,” Biedermann said.
“This legislation is designed to enhance the telling of the Alamo and Texas story, and lets the voices of the past speak for themselves through the documents that defined how the Texans and Tejanos of that day and time described their motives for why they fought for Texas independence… The focus should be on the battle itself. There is a larger story to be told, and that will be told also.”
Despite Biedermann’s assurances, a few members sought to shape that larger story with amendments to the bill.
From the back microphone, Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston) wound his way to the topic of secession after accusing Biedermann of erasing history and then suggesting that Biedermann wanted to resurrect slavery.
“I’m fed up with not giving all correct and accurate information. Because as we talk about the Texas Revolution, which was primarily about slavery, as we talk about the Civil War, which was primarily about slavery, each time Texas has wanted to secede from wherever they were, that was about slavery,” Johnson said before referring to Biedermann’s proposal to allow a statewide referendum on secession, Brexit-style.
“And I know you have a bill that wants Texas to secede from the United States. Is this going to be about slavery as well? Do you want to re-institute slavery? I mean, since you’re going to ask for a secession.”
The discussion sprang from Johnson’s discomfort with the bill’s limitation to historical documents, which he said ignored a probable presence of slaves at the battle. In response to Johnson’s assertion that written history does not include slaves at the site, Biedermann noted the tale of Joe, a slave owned by William B. Travis who survived the attack and whose firsthand accounts were recorded.
“The bill is all about historical documents, not about opinions. So if you have information that’s different than what you think is being told, you can bring those documents to the General Land Office [GLO] and you can bring that information, and that’s what it’s about,” Biedermann said, calling Johnson’s accusation “very poor taste.”
“The Texas Declaration of Independence stated, the men that lived in Texas stated why we fought for independence.”
Johnson later offered amendments to include the history of Joe and the role of slavery in the battle among the topics that exhibits should feature, both of which Biedermann accepted. Johnson ultimately voted for the bill.
Biedermann also expressed openness to a hypothetical suggestion by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), whose district includes the Alamo, to show the history of how the mission has shaped the city’s growth.
Fellow Republican Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) added an amendment that may also have been an allusion to Biedermann’s proposed “Texit” referendum.
Leach’s amendment put in a statement that affirms “the unique role” that the battle played in American history and espoused “Texas’s commitment to continued union with the United States and shared principles of freedom and sovereignty.” Leach first attempted to insert this statement in the code of Biedermann’s bill itself, but withdrew it after a point of order by Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City). His successful amendment inserts this statement into the state Natural Resources Code.
This was Biedermann’s first and only bill to make it to the floor this session. It passed through a heated committee hearing on a raft of controversial bills from the removal of the Confederate monuments around the capitol to the preservation of the Alamo cenotaph.
Though fears of a wayward renovation motivated several Republicans to file Alamo-related bills this session, project leaders have mostly smoothed the wrinkles in the plan. The City of San Antonio and the GLO eventually readjusted their plans to keep the cenotaph in place, and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg replaced outspoken city councilman Roberto Treviño, a former leader in the project who had most vocally fought to tell the Mexican side of the story and couch the battle in long cultural histories of the site.
Only 12 members voted against the bill both times: Reps. Alma Allen (D-Houston), Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton), Rhetta Bowers (D-Garland), John Bucy (D-Cedar Park), Jasmine Crockett (D-Dallas), Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin), Celia Israel (D-Austin), Sergio Muñoz (D-Mission), Leo Pacheco (D-San Antonio), Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Richardson), James Talarico (D-Round Rock), Erin Zwiener (D-Kyle).
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