Good morning Austin:
Sine die left me profoundly sad.
Two people I know and like threatened to kill one another on the House floor yesterday, or, more likely didn’t really threaten to kill one another.
But that is how the record will now read, and I fear something has been torn asunder in the Texas Legislature and the Texas body politic and that yesterday’s brief scuffle on the floor of the House will yield a bitter harvest, for all Texans but, I think, especially for Texas Republicans.
Whatever chance there was that those few minutes of deep rancor on the floor of the House would be written off as a surfeit of passion after an emotionally grueling session ended when Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, issued a statement actually accusing Democratic Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, of threatening to kill him, and Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, of assaulting him.
From Rinaldi’s Facebook page:
Today, Representative Poncho Nevarez threatened my life on the House floor after I called ICE on several illegal immigrants who held signs in the gallery which said “I am illegal and here to stay.” Several Democrats encouraged the protestors to disobey law enforcement. When I told the Democrats I called ICE, Representative Ramon Romero physically assaulted me, and other Democrats were held back by colleagues. During that time Poncho told me that he would “get me on the way to my car.” He later approached me and reiterated that “I had to leave at some point, and he would get me.” I made it clear that if he attempted to, in his words, “get me,” I would shoot him in self defense. I am currently under DPS protection. Several of my colleagues heard the threats made and witnessed Ramon assaulting me.
I called Nevárez yesterday, about an hour after the confrontation. He was on the road, driving back home to Eagle Pass.
Here is our conversation.
Nevárez: The jumping off point is this guy saying that because there were brown people in the gallery he was going to call ICE on them.
Yeah, they’re there and they’re actually breaking the House rules by being unruly, you’re supposed to behave yourself in the gallery. But his whole thought process is, there’s a lot of brown people together, let’s call ICE.
So he made that known to three or four of my colleagues. When I walked up and I heard he had done that I just told him you need to beat it out of there. We started scuffling a little bit.
Rinaldi’s the one that started this whole thing. Those words are uncalled for. They are fighting words where I come from, saying stuff like that.
I think there might have been a video up on Facebook of him doing that before he came up and told our group he was doing it. A video of him calling ICE. Briscoe Cain, I think, may have put it up on Facebook.
He’s saying, “Hey, I did this,” to group of Hispanic legislators – Cortez, Romero, Blanco.
First, I’m just getting in there to make sure nobody gets hurt, and then I realized what this dumb shit had said and so, that was it, like that was it, we’re done with him.
I don’t know remember exactly what I told him. Basically he needed to beat it, he needed to beat it out of there quick.
What about what you said about how he’s got to go outside sometime. Was that a threat?
It’s true he’s got to go outside sometime, but am I threatening to kill the guy? No. I just didn’t want to have those words on the House floor. And there’s no need for that to happen on the House floor. He’s got to go outside sometime and we can do it out there. But did I threaten to kill the guy or put a bullet in his head? No.
I mean, at the end of the day, where I’m from, those are fighting words. I mean, he’s saying those things and not expecting someone to want to scrap with him, he’s nuts. But for it to rise to the level of him wanting to shoot me in the head, that’s crazy. It just shows how crazy he is.
Did you hear him say he would put a bullet in your head?
I couldn’t really hear, but I mean (Rep.) Justin (Rodriguez) stood up at the press conference and said, this is what he said, motioning at me. He’s admitted he said it, he’s already admitted he said it.
If something like this was going to happen, would you have expected it to be Rinaldi?
Nevárez: Yeah. He’s a hateful little guy. He gets upset, throws stuff around his desk and stomps around. A lot of the mean-spirited amendments that come up have his name behind them, he’s involved. Today was just him acting out stuff that he act out all the time on the floor, and we’d just had enough. We’d had enough.
Does this tell Texans something about what’s behind SB 4?
Nevárez: You better believe it does.
What does it say?
Nevárez: It says if you’re brown, you’re suspect. And the only reason a guy like him wouldn’t ask ICE to get us on the floor is he believes being on the floor gives us some legitimacy or make us, quote, unquote, passable.
Look at his statement,” I called ICE because there were illegals there.” Well how the hell does he know that? What were there were a lot of folks that were brown with a lot of vowels in their names and in his mind then there’s something wrong or afoot. Let’s round them up, let God sort them out.
Are there repercussions, any violations of House rules?
Nevárez: I don’t know. Look, I’ve got to move past all this. I need to get to a point where we don’t have guys like that on the House floor. if that means working my ass off to make sure he doesn’t come back, then that’s what I”m going to do. If I have to knock on every door in his district, I am gong to do that.
Were you already planning to head straight home?
Nevárez: My plan was to get out of town. I didn’t want the day to end like this. It was not supposed to. Those people in the gallery had nothing to do with it. That’s’ on him. That’s not their fault. That’s what he’s going to say inspired him to do that. But if that’s what inspires you to be mean and hateful, then what kind of a person are you?
I mean you’ve got a bunch of other people on the floor who voted for that thing and they weren’t inspired to say some awful heinous things.
Nevárez: It is unfortunate that that had to play itself out on the House floor, but it’s fitting because this is where that stuff came from. He’s one of the architects of the Schaefer Amendment. He’s right there. You reap what you sow. What upsets then and what makes them feel awful is that they have to stare at that – those people right in the face telling him exactly what they thought of them, and that made them uncomfortable. And what does he do? He jumps on brown folks, it doesn’t matter who they are. All of them.
It’s unfortunate all the way around. Days like today are not supposed to be like this.
Here is what Rep. Ramon Romero had to say:
Here is what Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, who was in the thick of it, told me by text:
I was in close to the action as you can tell from the video.
Rinaldi was actually pretty cool and collected up until the moment that Poncho threatened him and that’s when things got heated.
Poncho and Romero immediately overreacted and the serious, physical threats against Rinaldi were very real. You can tell by the fact that it’s Rinaldi that’s been given DPS this evening instead of Poncho. I was glad that the altercation was quickly broken up and then disappointed to see so many Democrats use the scenario they instigated to try and score political points against Rinaldi.
Of the video he apparently briefly posted on Facebook, Cain told me, “That vid got deleted for real.”
And here is what Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, had to say on his Facebook page.
UGLY INCIDENT ON THE LAST DAY ON THE HOUSE FLOOR. Many Dems surrounded Rep Matt Rinaldi & began hurling insults & threats because he dared to comment on the unruly protest that had erupted in the gallery. I immediately stepped in at his side to chastise members who chose to abandon decorum and replace it wt school yard bullying.
What is clear is that the incident unleashed some ugly reactions.
There is much to regret here.
A dozen days ago I wrote about the surprising success this session of the dozen-member House Freedom Caucus, of which Rinaldi is an integral part. (Coarse correction: How the Freedom Caucus changed the session’s trajectory.)
Rinaldi has proven a skillful legislator.
On Sunday, predictably, he was named by Empower Texans as one of its ten best legislators. They gave each of their heroes a nickname, and Rinaldi”s was “The Paratrooper.”
While some lawmakers charge headfirst into every battle, State Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R–Irving) takes more of a tactical approach. A cornerstone of the conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, Rinaldi is often the brains of the operation. Though he does fight on the frontlines when he’s needed, the quick-witted lawyer is more often seen working the room in isolated bursts to fix flawed proposals and kill bad ones.
Rinaldi also serves as Texas Right to Life’s “Pro-Life Whip” and was one of the major reasons why conservatives were able to score major pro-life victories on the floor of the Texas House despite intense opposition from the speaker and his lieutenants.
Like a paratrooper, Rinaldi drops in precisely when and where he is needed, and then fights to ensure the grassroots the victories they are due.
It confirms the worst fears.
But now it appears he is not The Paratrooper but The Hothead or The Bombthrower.
It’s hard to see how his future as a legislator who can get any thing done is not now in ruins
Roused, perhaps angered, by the raucous scene that quickly unfolded in the Rotunda and the House gallery yesterday, and by the support his Hispanic Democratic colleagues were showing for those who had come to protest what the House had done, Rinaldi did something that seems intemperate at best and reckless at worst, like shouting fire in a crowded theater.
Why would he think calling ICE, and then, in an apparently in-your-face manner, telling his Hispanic Democratic colleagues that he had done it, seem like a wise or sane course?
Rinaldi and his colleagues had already won the war. The ban on sanctuary cities has been signed into law.
Yet, instead of accepting the spasm of protest as a very American expression of dissent, he saw it as alien and unAmerican. If he really thinks that the great mass of people who are living in America illegally hate America, he lives in a Fox News bubble.
And, in an instant, he fulfilled the worst fears of those opposed to SB 4, and undermined the assertion of Gov. Greg Abbott and others that it will do no harm to those who are simply living here illegally without committing any serious crime.
The crime for which Rinaldi was calling ICE was protesting, violating the decorum of the House. He writes, I called ICE on several illegal immigrants who held signs in the gallery which said “I am illegal and here to stay.”
For that, he calls ICE.
And what if those who were holding those I am illegal signs discarded them.
How is ICE supposed to proceed on their arrival, if, suppose, SB 4 were already the law. By detaining everyone in the gallery with a red shirt (or brown skin) – fifth generation Americans included – and asking them to show them their papers? And, for those without papers, beginning deportation procedings that would destroy their family, all because they came to the Texas Capitol in protest?
Also, by his own account, for Rinaldi to describe Poncho told me that he would “get me on the way to my car,” as threatening my life, seems ridiculous, especially compared to the far more explicit threat to put a bullet in Nevárez’s head, albeit, he said, in self-defense.
No good can come of this.
There were nearly 3,000 shares and 3,000 comments on Rinaldi’s Facebook post this morning. They appear to be pretty evenly divided, but consistently vitriolic.
I am sure he will become a folk here to many but he is summoning up something that, for as short as I’ve been here, seems unTexan.
There seems to be here an ahistorical self-righteousness and a lack of understanding that, whatever the laws have been, there has been a tacit acceptance in America, but most especially in Texas, of people, particularly those from Mexico, who are here illegally but are part of the fabric of the society, of the economy – that the Texas standard of living depends on it, and that Texas culture thrives on it – that there is the law, and then there are the generally accepted rules we all live by, and that it appears that SB 4 is changing those rules in some fundamental way.
It is a cliche that this kind of legislation, like Trump’s election, are the last gasps of a white America, of Anglo Texas, seeking to forestall its declining dominance.
It may also be true, and the smarter people in the Republican Party, or at least those who want to see it prevail past their own lifetimes, realize it is not in their interests to gather their forces in the Alamo.
But, one wonders.
I texted Rep. Jason Villalba – the Dallas Republican most at odds with the Freedom Caucus – yesterday to ask if he was on the floor when the scuffle broke out and what he made of it.
“No sir,” he replied. “But I know Matt is a good man who was merely voicing his passion.”
It was a generous response from Villalba, who a day earlier, Empower Texans, in predictably selecting him as one of the ten worst legislators, applied to him, as it has in the past, the nickname, The Rodeo Clown.
It was a terribly sour sine die.
I will prefer to remember this sweet scene from Sunday night’s penultimate session of the Texas House.