Dave McNeely

Dave McNeely

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick may become remembered as a catalyst for test-firing the state Legislature’s efforts this year to ban the teaching of critical race theory.

For those not in the know, CRT, as it has become known in academic and political worlds, includes that racism may have influenced our history.

Patrick, the lanky Republican presiding officer of the Texas Senate, occasionally known for opening his mouth before checking to see if there’s room for his large boot, sort of stumbled into this one.

It was on July 1 that Patrick learned of a virtual presentation scheduled for later that day at the Bob Bullock Museum of Texas History of a recently published book titled “Forget the Alamo.”

Its central theme is that Texans wanting to keep slavery legal, while Mexico didn’t, was a significant factor in Texas’ desire for independence from Mexico becoming a war.

Two of the three co-authors, Chris Tomlinson and Bryan Burrough, were to participate in the discussion. The third co-author is Jason Stanford.

Patrick apparently had heard enough about the book, through the news media and perhaps by complaints over social media and otherwise, to know that a central theme of the book about the centerpiece of Texas’ independence had a dark underbelly.

Continuing slavery legal was part of the reason for Texas wanting independence from Mexico, which had outlawed it. The war led to the battle at the Alamo, in which 180 Texan rebels died.

As it happens, the Bullock museum is under the auspices of the Texas State Preservation Board, which oversees the Capitol complex.

Patrick, as lieutenant governor, is one of the six members of the board.

“As a member of the Preservation Board, I told staff to cancel this event as soon as I found out about it,” Patrick tweeted a day after the event was scrubbed — three-and-a-half hours before an event with 300 RSVPs.

Patrick said that “this fact-free rewriting of TX history has no place @BullockMuseum.”

(Other Preservation Board members include the governor, Greg Abbott; the House speaker, Dade Phelan; a House member named by the speaker, Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe; a senator named by the lieutenant governor, Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown; and a member of the public appointed by the governor, Althea Swann Bugg of San Antonio.)

The fact that Patrick would in essence censor a book with a different take on Texas history rang a little hollow, following his strong backing a few weeks earlier for a bill to clamp down on “social media censorship.”

Perhaps trying to recover somewhat for the censorship contrast, Patrick announced July 15 that he has proposed the University of Texas assemble an expert panel to discuss “Forget The Alamo.”

“It is time that these writers are asked tough questions by serious historians about their research and thesis,” Patrick said in a statement.

“I have asked the University of Texas if they would host a panel with the ‘Forget the Alamo’ authors alongside history experts to explore scholarship of this book, debate the facts and get to the truth.”

One of the co-authors of the Alamo book, Tomlinson, a Houston Chronicle business writer, said Patrick is the only one who would get schooled.

“He’s clearly not read the book, otherwise he’d know the state’s top historians are already in the book,” Tomlinson said. “I think he’s being called out for promising to defend freedom of speech in his emails, then canceling our event hours later. I think he’s feeling pressure from the ACLU and our letter demanding that they reinstate our event.”

The ACLU sent a letter to the Bullock museum’s director, Margaret Koch, and the preservation board, comparing the silencing of the authors to the “censorship imposed by authoritarian regimes.”

“The cancellation of this event not only strikes at the heart of the Museum’s mission, but also violates core constitutional principles,” the letter said. “Simply put, the government cannot suppress people’s speech based on their viewpoint. In cancelling this event, the Bullock Museum has done just that.”

Tomlinson said he’d had yet to be invited to a UT panel, but said he’d be happy to participate, “as long as it’s not some kind of kangaroo court.”

And he’d also like to see the Bullock event restored.

“That was a violation of my rights, and nothing else is going to make up for it,” he said.

For what it’s worth, the co-authors maybe should send Patrick a thank you note. Before he canceled their Bullock event, the book hadn’t made any special strides.

Shortly afterwards, it had reached No. 10 on the New York Times bestseller list and gone into at least a second printing.

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— Dave McNeely is an Austin-based columnist who covers Texas politics. His column appears Thursday.