Rep. Jonathan Stickland signals discord ahead in Texas House after anti-abortion sign removal

According to uber-conservative Rep. Jonathan Stickland, the get-along times in the Texas Legislature this session might have come to an abrupt end Wednesday morning when a senior member of the Texas House removed a protest sign in front of Stickland’s office that identified the Tarrant County Republican as a former fetus.

Stickland of Bedford said the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life passed out signs to cover the nameplates in front of members’ offices to show support for their cause. Stickland proudly stuck the pastel-colored sign that read “Representative Jonathan Stickland FORMER FETUS District 92 E1.402” to greet visitors.

“I was trying to make a statement,” Stickland said. “I think I have the right to put something on my own placard.”

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But Rep. Charlie Geren, the chamber’s rule-enforcer, promptly removed the sign with a reminder that the Preservation Board prohibits such displays.

“We don’t decorate the halls,” he said.

Geren of Fort Worth might also be a North Texas Republican, but he and Stickland don’t tend to spend a lot of quality time together.

Stickland told the American-Statesman that Geren’s sign removal was aggressive and intimidating.

Geren rejected Stickland’s characterization, saying that sometimes people mistakenly take his deep voice as a sign of aggression.

“I’m not trying to be rude,” he said and added that Stickland and others can put anything they want inside of their offices.

At its root, the exchange between the two members actually might be a foreshadowing of stormy times ahead in the Texas House.

“I think the Kumbaya is about to be over,” Stickland said. “It’s time to start telling the voters where we stand. I think people are beginning to get anxious.”

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The divisive speaker’s race of 2015 seems long ago, and the days of celebrating, back-slapping and getting reacquainted are coming to a close, Stickland said.

And if some conservative bills don’t begin to get serious consideration in committees and on the House floor, then Stickland and his band of right-wing conservative members will be calling out the House leadership, he said.

“We are about to start cutting each other to shreds,” he said.

Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano echoed the sentiment as he joined Stickland in his office early Wednesday to show solidarity.

“Conservative legislation might die,” he said, “but it’s not going to die quietly.”

The fetus signs that caused the stir Wednesday were intended to be in response to the presence of Planned Parenthood supporters on its lobby day at the Capitol.

The signs were not meant to repel Planned Parenthood representatives, Stickland said. But he immediately added: “They can come in, but I won’t talk about abortion or money.”

Leach said he, too, will allow Planned Parenthood supporters into his office, even though he disagrees with the group.

“They know where I stand on the issue,” Leach said. “If they want to waste their time in my office, there are more than welcome to.”

Later Wednesday morning — as the Twitter-sphere erupted with chatter of the signs and their removal — Stickland engaged in a clear attempt to push the rules. He stuck the fetus sign on the inside of the glass door to his office. Stickland’s staff has been reviewing the rules to see if they explicitly forbid members from decorating the halls.

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“If they can’t justify it, it’ll go back up,” he said.

Geren has said he has heard almost nothing negative about his sign removal, though he noted that he was familiar with some disapproving Twitter posts by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a conservative activist and longtime critic of Speaker Joe Straus and his lieutenants, of which Geren is one.

But Geren wasn’t too concerned with Sullivan’s take on the issue or the reference to him as a bully.

In his distinctive voice, Geren said: “I frankly don’t give a damn what he thinks.”