Usually in a frenzy, those wishing to replace the Speaker, tell stories about the Speaker’s failures and label him as a moderate at best. In some circles, they would call him a traitor to the great state of Texas and not a “true” Conservative because of his supposed killing of Republican bills.
But last night, in Dallas, Representative Jason Villalba and Rep. (Elect) Matt Rinaldi decided to have a debate about the Speaker’s race. Rinaldi, a Rep. Scott Turner supporter, brought forth many charges or complaints about the Straus record. Villalba was there to show support for the Speaker and clarify for the audience the difference between rhetoric and results.
The crowd, nearly 80% in favor of Rinaldi (Scott Turner) showed up in their traditional Tea Party fashion. They wore T-shirts and were excited to hear Rinaldi take on the “establishment.” Because Villalba was standing in support of Straus, he was perceived as the RINO in the room, which he even acknowledged during the debate.
Moderated by Dallas Radio Host, Mark Davis, the debate began by allowing opening statements. Rinaldi began by itemizing the reasons it was time for a new Speaker. He listed bills that never made it out of committee, and recounted events during past sessions that to him and his Tea Party supporters, were unforgivable. From the Pro-Life bills to border security, Rinaldi pointed out issues and gave contrasting perspectives of what he felt Rep. Turner might have done in the same situation, and what Turner would do if elected as Speaker.
Rep. Villalba’s first two minutes clearly indicated the path he would take during the debate, which was wrapped in statistical, factual information. “Let’s look at the game film,” said Villalba. “Let’s go back and look at what actually happened, let’s look at the facts.”
While Rinaldi pointed out the negatives, Villabla said, “If we’re going to acknowledge the negatives, then we must also accept the positives of the Speaker’s record.” Villalba pointed out that during the Speaker’s tenure, Texas has passed some of the most conservative bills in recent history. The sonogram bill, voter ID, increased funding for border security, water and much more.
Immediately, Rinaldi responded saying Straus may have been the Speaker during those sessions, but he did not lead the way toward passing the bills. Rinaldi suggested the bills passed in spite of the Speaker’s role.
The dialogue went back and forth between the two, with an occasional interjection from Mark Davis. At times, the crowd would erupt in support of a comment made by Rinaldi. The crowd would also laugh at Villalba’s responses when they felt he was filling them with “RINO propaganda.”
Key words like progress, were sneered at. One time during the debate, Villalba talked about the Speaker, calling his leadership style “Reaganesque.” As you might imagine, the crowd went crazy in disbelief. They couldn’t believe someone would compare Straus to Reagan, but Villalba stood firm and explained why.
Villalba told a story about Rep. Turner. He said he loved Scott Turner and felt he was a great leader, very conservative and a strong Christian man. The crowd seemed to feel, “Well, if you like him so much, why are you supporting Straus?” Then Villalba ended his story about Turner by saying, while he did feel Turner had leadership qualities, he was not “prepared to take the reigns.”
Rinaldi disagreed with Villalba, pointing out the Speaker’s intentional actions to stop a vote on pro-life legislation. Rinaldi also mentioned statistics from a legislative report suggesting Straus helped Democrats pass more bills than Republicans. Villalba came back with a different report showing different results in favor of Republican bills.
It seemed like the entire night was all about bashing Straus and lifting Turner. While Villalba did what he could, he was speaking to a crowd loyal to Turner. In essence, Villalba entered the lion’s den, and threw himself on the sword over and over.
Understanding there was nothing he could say to change their minds, all he could do was point to the record. Even then, with facts before them and a track record of incredibly conservative legislation being passed, they would not be swayed.
Villalba talked about the process of passing bills. He mentioned it did take both sides working together to make it happen, and that an uncompromising Scott Turner would be ineffective as the Speaker.
To the Tea Party, any compromise is unacceptable. Rinaldi said, “It’s one thing to compromise and another to find common ground. When you find common ground at least you advance the ball.” But, in a climate where saying the word “progress” is perceived as a negative, how can one move the ball?
Within the Republican Party, are different levels of conservatism. Some are weak republicans, others moderate, and most conservative. Some, are far right, extreme in some cases.
Villalba seems to represent those from the conservative side toward the moderate positions. Rinaldi seems to represent the Tea Party faction, which tends to lean further to the right.
If Rep. Turner has the same political positions as Rinaldi, then how effective can he be? Will he get the same results, or will he turn off Democrats? Without both sides working together, including State leadership, would we pass conservative bills or will they die in gridlock?
I wish we could have seen an actual debate between Straus and Turner, but we didn’t. Instead, we saw two representatives go at it. Who won? Depends on who you ask. Who will win the Speaker’s race? According to Villalba, it’s “already over.”
Here’s to a successful 2015 Legislative session, regardless of who is in the Speaker’s seat.