Donna Campbell Battles to Protect the Alamo from Foreign Control

State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) has proposed a bill to ban foreign control of the Alamo.
State Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) has proposed a bill to ban foreign control of the Alamo.

On this day in 1836, a group of Texians battled to save the Alamo from an invading foreign force. They lost.

Today, 179 years later, Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) fought to legally ban foreign control of the Alamo.

To judge from the reaction of the members of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development, she may lose as well.

After invoking the brave Texans “that stood up for freedom” at the Alamo, Campbell laid out Senate Bill 191.

“The intent of this bill, Senate Bill 191, is to prevent vesting any ownership, control, or management of the Alamo to a foreign company or any entity formed under the laws of another country,” Campbell said.

The state of Texas owns the Alamo, but Campbell appears to be concerned that the United Nations could contaminate the site.

Last year the U.S. Department of the Interior nominated the Alamo for inclusion in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) list of World Heritage Sites.

World Heritage Sites must have “outstanding universal value to humanity,” according to the UNESCO website. The designation doesn’t affect ownership of a site. There are 22 such sites across the United States, including the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall and the Grand Canyon.

Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) said Campbell’s bill may send the wrong message to UNESCO.

“World Heritage status is quite a prestigious honor to have bestowed upon the Alamo and the other missions. You would agree with that?” Uresti asked.

“Not necessarily,” Campbell replied.

“My bill is not regarding UNESCO, and I would say that if something saying that Texas owning, operating, and maintaining the Alamo gives cause of concern to the U.N., than that gives me cause for concern,” Campbell said.

Several senators said that as long as the state owns the Alamo there’s no threat from the U.N. or any foreign entity.

Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) added that he couldn’t imagine Texas would sell the Alamo to a foreign entity with or without the bill.

“I’m trying to figure out what problem we’re trying to solve here,” Estes said.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) asked Campbell if there was support for the bill in San Antonio.

“I don’t know,” Campbell replied.

World Heritage status would positively impact San Antonio’s economy, according to a 2013 report by the Harbinger Consulting Group, boosting economic activity by  $105 million and create 1,100 new jobs.

From 1905 to 2011, the nonprofit group the Daughters of the Republic of Texas was the official caretaker of the Alamo. The group failed to adequately preserve the site, including failing to fix a leaky roof for some 14 years, and misused state funds for the organization’s own benefit, according to a report from the attorney general’s office. In 2011, the Legislature voted to transfer custody of the Alamo to the General Land Office.

Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) asked Campbell about other UNESCO World Heritage Sites across the country.

Campbell said she didn’t know of any.

The committee heard testimony from several witnesses against the bill, including representatives from the Bexar County Commissioners Court and the San Antonio Conservation Society.

“I can tell you anything that starts with the ‘UN’ gives me cause for concern,” Campbell said.

“The Kremlin has a World Heritage designation and [Russian President Vladimir Putin] wanted to change the landscape around the Kremlin, but UNESCO threatened to pull their designation so he couldn’t change the landscape around it, ” Campbell said.

The bill was left pending in committee.

John Savage is a writer based in Austin.

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Published at 3:50 pm CST