Texas state representatives Matt Rinaldi (District 115) and Jason Villalba (District 114) met for a rousing debate on the upcoming Texas House Speaker vote, moderated by Dallas radio personality Mark Davis (660-AM) on the Southern Methodist University (SMU) campus on Wednesday night, January 7.
The 500-seat Hughes-Trigg Campus Center was packed for the hour long gathering where the merits of both state representatives were presented as to whom best reflected Texas values and was better poised to oversee leadership of the State House.
The mood was energetic. In the audience were other grassroots representatives including Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) and Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano). Tea Party favorite Pastor Raphael Cruz, father of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, was also present.
Tea Party favorite Rinaldi argued on behalf of challenger, Rep. Scott Turner 8 (R-Rockwall) while the Republican Villalba argued for the incumbent and longtime House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).
The speaker’s race heated up in North Texas this winter when Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) shocked grassroots activists in Fort Worth, declaring his support for current speaker Straus, often criticized by conservatives for his purple politics, which Breitbart Texas reported.
Conservatives have been frustrated by Straus politics and policy record. They began putting pressure on their elected officials and local parties after the November election, which categorically called for a change in state and nationwide leadership.
Rinaldi set that tone from the onset of the debate. He said, “On November 4th, voters sent a very clear message to the state of Texas. They elected by nearly a tw0-thirds margin the most conservative house, the most conservative senate and the most conservative statewide office holders in Texas history. They sent a mandate to us.”
He emphasized that “voters deserve the limited government, constitutional conservative government that they voted for.” He added that the one impediment to achieving this was the Texas House.
“Scott Turner wants to change that as Speaker of the House. He wants to let us vote on the conservative legislation that Republicans campaigned on,” Rinaldi stated, noting that Turner would let conservative legislation come to the floor. Speaker Straus would “kill it.”
Villalba chalked up the split in the GOP regarding Straus as “tremendous misinformation about Speaker Straus.” He said he supported Straus because he is a “committed, principled conservative” which he told Breitbart Texas before the debate.
That idea of “misinformation” was floated around throughout the debate, which was not well received by the largely Tea Party crowd. Nor were Villalba’s platitudes calling Straus “Reaganesque.”
He credited Straus for many of Texas’ successes because they happened on the current Speaker’s watch. That included House Bill 2 (HB2), the pro-life bill.
Rinaldi countered that while Villalba was taking credit for Straus, “the Speaker did everything in his power to kill HB2” and it passed “in spite of him, not because of him.”
He recalled how it was never brought up for a vote in the regular session and credited the passage of HB2 to the Governor Perry who was “adamant about the bill.”
Villalba echoed Capriglione’s previous sentiments about the Speaker’s race declaring “This race is over. ”
He believed Straus, not Turner had the numbers. Earlier, Villalba told Breitbart Texas that “Scott probably has about nine votes. I think he might get into double digits, maybe to 12 or 13, at best. I don’t think he’ll get beyond 15.”
Rinaldi estimated that Turner has closer to 20 with more breaking for him at the time of the vote.
According to Empower Texans, support for Turner continues to grow with 17 counties whose executive committees have passed resolutions endorsing the Rockwall representative for Texas House Speaker. Those counties are Cass, Collin, Dallas, Ellis, Erath, Harris, Harrison, Kaufman, Lamar, Marion, Panola, Red River, Sabine, Shelby, Smith, Titus and Upshur. Two more counties, Johnson and Bosque, passed resolutions in favor of a “more conservative” candidate.
Villalba believed that in the House Straus had 75 committed Republican votes and “all the Democrats” which essentially would shut out Turner, who Villalba characterized as a a wonderful man, and a good friend but one who he also said was not ready to lead.
Later, Rinaldi suggested that “Straus has less support than you see in the media.”
Villalba continued to stand by his man and told the audience, “I am supporting the speaker because he stands for progress. I know he stands for good conservative leadership. ”
That comment didn’t sit well with the strongly pro-Turner audience. Nor did the occasions when Villalba called Straus “Reaganesque” or “principled.”
“The weight of the grassroots, as you can see from the crowd here tonight, is far in favor of Scott Turner. You cannot deny your voters like this and expect to win re-election,” Rinaldi added alluding to Straus’ track record on which Breitbart Texas reported was generally perceived to be “moderate-to-liberal.”
“Scott Turner will empower conservatives. A Straus-led house will empower Democrats,” Rinaldi said.
He cited Brownsville Democratic Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, who said in support of Joe Straus, “Democrats are vastly outnumbered. Only Joe Straus will give us a voice.”
Rinaldi also voiced a common conservative criticism that under Straus, legislation piloted by Democrats has fared better than their GOP counterpart’s measures in the Texas House.
While Rinaldi pointed out a history of bills that were killed in committee under Straus, Villalba noted that “dying bills were not because of one man” although he also wanted to credit the current House Speaker for all the accomplishments passed in the House under his watch or as he called it, the “game tape,” which included HB2 and a growing economy.
One of the defining moments came later on when Villalba acquiesced to the reality that a majority of debate attendees did not agree with Straus’ politics. Villalba said he understood their frustration of feeling like they weren’t represented by him. Then, he blurted out that Straus will bring “progressive and forward looking solutions.”
The crowd broke out into loud applause and laughter, reacting to the verbiage and the commonly recognized connotative meaning of “progressive” associated with leftwing politics.
The generally good-will debate of ideas became heated at this point with some audience members pledging to bring an opponent to Villalba in 2016. “Bring someone in my district who you think is better than me,” Villalba responded.
Rinaldi cited Turner saying he would not expand Medicaid under Obamacare. He also said that Turner is against implementing Obamacare exchanges in Texas.
Villalba countered that in a 2015 Straus-led House there would be no Medicaid expansion and “Obamacare was off the table” even though in the last legislative session Straus tried to move to grow this portion of the Affordable Care Act.
Earlier, Villalba told Breitbart Texas that this event came about when another radio personality, Debbie Georgatos, asked the two representatives to debate on-air. Villalba declined. Both men appeared separately on her Sunday evening show. Villalba wanted the debate in Austin where the Speaker’s vote will take place. However, it happened in Turner’s backyard where conservatives and grassroots activists rallied around Turner.
Public awareness was a key goal in this debate for Rinaldi. He said, “This is an important discussion to have. This is the most important vote we will take all session because it will determine what will come to the (House) floor, what will get passed. This is the election. The election we had (in November) was a mandate for conservative leadership. This Speaker’s vote determines whether or not the people actually get that in policy or not.”
Moderator Davis asked both representatives what a Texas future would look like under their respective Speakers. Villalba envisioned a kitchen sink of Straus “results” in areas of transportation, the franchise tax being scaled back “if not completely eliminated,” immigration reform that will include voter ID, adjustments that may roll back the Texas Dream Act, and more funding for border security.
He also told the audience that the Texas economy will continue to grow although he cautioned about planning for lean times. “As oil and gas begins to fall, we’ve got some issues” and said it was time to be “fiscally conservative,” presenting a gloomier future where the money in the coffers that is plentiful today “will be much tighter.”
Rinaldi pointed out that if Scott Turner becomes House Speaker, combined with a conservative governor, Lt. governor, and a conservative senate, “you will see the greatest group of conservative bills passed through our legislature in any state.”
Rinaldi believed Texas has an opportunity with a Speaker Turner to show the country that our ideas of promoting limited government and individual liberties works. He predicted a constitutional amendment passed under Turner’s House leadership that would limit spending to a formula of inflation plus population growth, preventing future growth in government, a two-thirds vote about the spending cap, elimination of the franchise tax, a constitutional amendment creating a four-fifths vote required to raise taxes, immigration reform that secured the border and eliminated the “magnets” who bring the undocumented into Texas, plus more from Turner on the pro-life front.
The crowd also erupted in favor of when Rinaldi said that he believed that under Turner we would see “real school choice that allows money to move with the student.”
However, Rinaldi cautioned that the window is closing to do “historic things” in Texas and set an example for the nation.
Following the debate, Raphael Cruz spoke to Breitbart Texas and called the evening’s interchange a healthy discussion.
“It has been great to see the people of Texas look to have leadership that represent their values. We need to hold politicians accountable,” he said, adding that Texas needs conservatives with backbone that will “walk the walk” instead of just “talk the talk.”
Cruz emphasized the gravity of the Texas House Speaker’s race in light of the recent US House of Representative’s vote that he called a “travesty” leaving Boehner, who the elder Cruz called “a hindrance to conservative values,” in place as US House Speaker.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.