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Session Ends In a Fit of Rage

House members mark Sine Die by threatening each other with violence.

By Comments

Protestors in the Texas Capitol rotunda on Monday.
Photo by Bob Daemmrich

The regular session of the 85th Legislature had much in common with a white hot ball of rage. It started early in the session when a state senator destroyed a tabletop by forcefully gaveling down testimony from a witness against an abortion bill and continued through today’s closing minutes when a House member called Immigration and Customs Enforcement on sanctuary cities protestors in the gallery. Democrats alleged that Republican Representative Matt Rinaldi of Irving threatened to shoot a Mexican-American legislator in the head. Rinaldi responded by saying a Democrat threatened him and that he only said he would shoot in self-defense.

The floor scuffle broke out as red-shirted members of United We Dream filled the gallery to protest passage of Senate Bill 4, an immigration crackdown bill recently signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott. The House had added controversial language to allow police to ask residency status questions of people they detain. Rinaldi said the protestors displayed a banner over the brass rail that said, “I am illegal and here to stay.” What happened next is in dispute.

Members of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus said they were angered by Rinaldi repeatedly saying he had called ICE on the protestors. Representative Ramon Romero Jr. of Fort Worth said Rinaldi only saw undocumented immigrants in the gallery, although not all were. “He saw the crowd, and he saw illegals,” Romero said at a news conference. “In his heart, he has hate for those people and wants to see them gone.” Representative Justin Rodriguez of San Antonio said there was an exchange between Rinaldi and Representative Poncho Nevarez of Eagle Pass that led to some words about taking it outside. “There was a threat from Representative Rinaldi to put a bullet in one of my colleague’s head. That kind of threatening language, he needs to be called out.”


Video from KVUE-TV in Austin (see above) showed Nevarez repeatedly shoving Rinaldi backward and approaching him aggressively, but their words could not be heard. Other legislators were stopping other members from joining the fray.

Rinaldi’s version of events in a Twitter statement is that Romero “physically assaulted me, and other Democrats were held back by my 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.” Rinaldi said he was in the protective custody of the Department of Public Safety.

Anger has been growing between the Mexican-American caucus and members of the Freedom Caucus, which includes Rinaldi, ever since the April 27 debate on the sanctuary cities bill. Freedom Caucus Chair Matt Schaefer, a Tyler Republican, got the House to attach an amendment preventing police departments from restricting officers from asking about citizenship or residency status while detaining an individual. The legislation was opposed by every major police chief in the state, but Abbott signed it into law on May 7.

The confrontation and threats were almost a fitting end to a legislative session that seemed designed to create hard feelings among lawmakers, especially in the House. The chamber had emotionally raw debates over strict abortion and  immigration bills, and efforts to regulate which restrooms transgender people use. These were human rights issues that affect state lawmakers in a very personal way. In the House, at least six legislators—two men and four women —broke into tears during floor debates. Democrats snapped at Republicans, stopping just short of calling them racists. A member of the Freedom Caucus stomped around the House floor, essentially decrying the death of democracy on the speaker’s dais.

Two decades from now, it is unlikely anyone will look back and proclaim that the 85th Legislature worked to build a Texas for the rest of the 21st Century.

State lawmakers probably will be back before the summer is out for a special legislative session called by Governor Greg Abbott. Tempers may have cooled by then but the emotional wounds that lawmakers inflicted on each other these past 140 days will likely last for a long time.

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    A session filled with hate towards people of a different color or ethnic background. or sexual orientation or even political views ended in an outburst of hate by both the hater and the hated. America has come a long way from the days when Rinaldi’s name would have been a cause for discriminating against him….but we obviously still have far to go.

    • BCinBCS

      The hatred that you describe has been with us, as you point out, for a very long time. I don’t know if in the past political parties have exploited it on a national scale the way that the Republican party does now – my knowledge base is in the sciences – but, as an avocational historian WUSRPH, maybe you or another reader can shine some light on the subject.

      I do a lot of reading and among the many things that I have learned is the admonition of psychologists and sociologists for liberals not to directly point out the misinformation, falsehoods and biases on which radical right conservatives base their beliefs. Nonetheless, I would like to directly point out that Republican supporters, the President and the Texas legislature are making bad decisions out of fear and prejudice and that these actions are hurting everyone, including conservatives.

      How did things get so bad?

      To answer this, I am reminded of the obituary that Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone Magazine after the death of Fox News Corp. founder Roger Ailes. His article about Ailes not only describes the founding and success of the guiding voice of the right but it explains how the Republican party, Comrade Trump and the Texas legislature got where they are today. To see the latter two more clearly, simply mentally substitute “Trump” or “Texas legislature” where ever you see descriptions of Ailes actions.

      Ailes was the Christopher Columbus of hate. When the former daytime TV executive and political strategist looked across the American continent, he saw money laying around in giant piles. He knew all that was needed to pick it up was a) the total abandonment of any sense of decency or civic duty in the news business, and b) the factory-like production of news stories that spoke to Americans’ worst fantasies about each other.

      Like many con artists, he reflexively targeted the elderly – “I created a TV network for people from 55 to dead,” he told Joan Walsh – where he saw billions could be made mining terrifying storylines about the collapse of the simpler America such viewers remembered, correctly or (more often) incorrectly, from their childhoods.

      In this sense, his Fox News broadcasts were just extended versions of the old “ring around the collar” ad – scare stories about contagion. Wisk was pitched as the cure for sweat stains creeping onto your crisp white collar; Fox was sold as the cure for atheists, feminists, terrorists and minorities crawling over your white picket fence.

      Ailes launched Fox in 1996 with a confused, often amateurish slate of dumb programs cranked out by cut-rate and often very young staffers. The channel was initially most famous for its overt shallowness (“More News in Less Time” was one of its early slogans) and its Monty Python-style bloopers. But the main formula was always the political scare story, and Fox quickly learned to mix traditional sensationalist tropes like tabloid crime reporting with demonization of liberal villains like the Clintons.
      But invective, like drugs or tobacco or any other addictive property, is a product of diminishing returns. You have to continually up the ante to get people coming back. So Ailes and Fox over the years graduated from simply hammering Democratic politicians to making increasingly outlandish claims about an ever-expanding list of enemies.

      Soon the villains weren’t just in Washington, but under every rock, behind every corner. Immigrants were spilling over the borders. Grades were being denuded in schools by liberal teachers. Marriage was being expanded to gays today, perhaps animals tomorrow. ACORN was secretly rigging vote totals.
      The Fox response was to hire an endless succession of blow-dried, shrieking dingbats like Laura Ingraham, author of Shut Up and Sing, who filled the daytime hours with rants about every conceivable cultural change being the product of an ongoing anti-American conspiracy. Ingraham even derided muffin tops as evidence of America’s decaying values.

      Ailes picked at all these scabs, and then when he ran out of real storylines to mine he invented some that didn’t even exist. His Fox was instrumental in helping Donald Trump push the birther phenomenon into being, and elevated the practically nonexistent New Black Panthers to ISIS status, warning Republicans that these would-be multitudinous urban troublemakers were planning on bringing guns to the GOP convention.

      The presidency of Donald Trump wouldn’t have been possible had not Ailes raised a generation of viewers on these paranoid storylines. But the damage Ailes did wasn’t limited to hardening and radicalizing conservative audiences.
      So when he created Fox, he merged his expertise from those two worlds, mixing entertainment and political stagecraft.

      The effect was to politicize the media, a characteristic of banana republics everywhere. When Ailes decided to cordon off Republican audiences and craft news programming targeted specifically to them, he began the process of atomizing the entire media landscape into political fiefdoms – Fox for the right, MSNBC for the left, etc.
      What most of us are buying when we tune in to this or that channel or read this or that newspaper is a reassuring take on the changes in the world that most frighten us. We buy the version of the world that pleases us and live in little bubbles where we get to nurse resentments all day long and no one ever tells us we’re wrong about anything. Ailes invented those bubbles.

      Moreover, Ailes built a financial empire waving images of the Clintons and the Obamas in front of scared conservatives. It’s no surprise that a range of media companies are now raking in fortunes waving images of Donald Trump in front of terrified Democrats.

      It’s not that Trump isn’t or shouldn’t be frightening. But it’s conspicuous that our media landscape is now a perfect Ailes-ian dystopia, cleaved into camps of captive audiences geeked up on terror and disgust. The more scared and hate-filled we are, the more advertising dollars come pouring in, on both sides.


      • Madalinejmeneses

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      • donuthin2

        Wow, pretty thought provoking. I wonder how we could be so vulnerable to such biases whether from the right or left? I keep thinking that somehow it is rooted in our lack of critical thinking skills but I wonder if we are are worse now than historically or if some have just learned to take advantage.

        • zoomar2

          “…whether from the right or left?” Why do people always have to throw that in when talking about the racist fear mongering and demagoguery that the right and exclusively the right has been using and escalating exponentially for years. This is not “right and left” this is not “both sides do it” Conservatives brought us to this point. Conservatives won’t be happy until there’s blood in the streets. Conservatives won’t be happy until anyone who doesn’t think like them is either gone, dead or too scared to speak up. One of the fastest growing groups right now are Liberal gun clubs. I hope you right wing bastards are happy about that.

          • donuthin2

            I wasn’t speaking so much of the racist issues but rather the strategy of the news organizations. Admittedly, Fox has taken it to a new level, but MSN is somewhat guilty also. My point was that we will always be vulnerable from either side unless we are able to think objectively and separate the biases out of the reporting.

          • Jed

            “Admittedly, Fox has taken it to a new level, but MSN is somewhat guilty also.”

            i assume you mean msnbc. but are you aware of all their hires since the election? they have remade themselves as fox, jr.

            the question is why, since people will continue to assume they are liberal whackos anyway … like you are doing here.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Turn off your television. Did that a couple of years ago and can recommend it highly. I “read” all my news now.

          • SpiritofPearl

            Still relitigating the Civil War . . .

      • WUSRPH

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    • Texas Publius

      Rinaldi is from Connecticut.
      Tinderholt is from Minnesota.
      Patrick is from Maryland.
      These guys care more about scoring political points than helping Texas.

  • donuthin2

    Think we ain’t got class. F”n yeah.

  • WestTexan70

    This 60-year-old, white, male native Texan isn’t as nice as the Democrats in the Lege. I won’t stop short of calling republicans racists — they are racists and have been since LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act. The nasty, evil racist tripe that was the southern Democratic party switched to the republican party. Many of these folks are my family members. I wish that we would stop sugarcoating the truth.


    Any lawyers out there have an opinion on what will happen to SB 4, sanctuary cities, in the courts?

    Just from what I have read and thought, I would expect that the “show me your papers” part will probably be upheld…..The SCOTUS okayed a similar provision in the Arizona law and there is probably nothing an officer can do if you answer or don’t. If you do, being an illegal is not a crime, so he can’t arrest you for that. He has to have some other cause. If you don’t, you can probably claim the protection of the 5th Amendment.

    However, I think other portions of the law are more than questionable….especially the portion that makes it a crime for a public official to even advocate not enforcing immigration laws. The US tried to make “advocating” an offense back when in the Red Scare period of the late 40s-50s, but the SCOTUS struck that down on the grounds of free speech. At the minimum you have to go further than advocating into actually doing something to violate the law. Of course, Abbott and company will scream….but, absent bringing back the Alien and Sedition Acts or their 1917 version, thinking something and saying something is not (at least yet) a crime in this country.

    And, of course, there is the whole 4th Amendment aspect of trying to require that local officials hold someone in jail without a charge. That aspect of the federal law has already been struck down by at least one federal court and seems to be very likely to be here too…. We also don’t yet have “preventative detention” in this country…..but who knows….

    The most interesting aspect of the whole controversy is that with SB 4 we have a legislature/governor who are always complaining that when the evil Feds try to make us do something they are violating the 10th Amendment but, in this case, are compelling local official to go beyond what the federal law requires them to do. It’s too bad they don’t feel the same way about civil rights or pollution.


    Here is an update from the Texas Tribune on the status of most of the major legislation:


  • Texas Publius

    This was the nastiest session in memory.

    The Legislature is rudderless. No one is leading. No one is gaining consensus. The Lt Gov (from Baltimore) is trying to rip apart the very fabric of Texas while the Gov and Speaker (both Texans) just react to him, the former more Neville Chamberlain and the latter more early FDR. I guess everyone’s just waiting for the Lt Gov to start a two-front war.

    These legislators are human and do NOT need to be around each other for awhile. They need a break. If the Gov calls them back soon in a Special, awful things will happen…..

    • WUSRPH

      It was certainly the nastiest one since Tom DeLay engineered the mid-term congressional redistricting that led to the walkouts and quorum breaks by the Democrats in both the House and Senate. That was certainly a nasty time….but the dispute that year was more “political” where this year much of it was more “personal” at least to the Democrats. It is weird that just many of the Republicans think that a sanctuary cities bill is “just politics” and cannot understand why so many Democrats “take it personal”….You can forgive, but maybe not forget, a fight over how many congressmen your party has, but overlooking an attempt to deprive someone who looks like you and has as similar last name of his home is harder to “forgive”. It is especially hard when some of those doing the depriving enjoy it so much….

    • WUSRPH

      BYW, I understand your reference to Abbott being Neville Chamberlain, but I don’t get the image of Straus as being an early FDR. Could you explain it?


    The new two elections are going to be very critical both the Liberty/Freedom/Anarchy Caucus and the Democrats because they will represent their last two chances to increase their numbers to enough members to have some effect on the redistricting that will take place in the 2021 session. To have any chance of influencing the drawing of their district lines they are doing to need about 50 members in each group. The Democrats are there now, but, to have any swing they probably will need at least another half dozen…And even then to have any influence they are probably going to have to be willing to work together against the more mainstream Republicans. In that regard, it might be somewhat like the late 60s and the early 70s when the so-called “liberals” in the House worked with the handful of Republicans against their common foe—the conservative democrats. Most people do not remember that the few Republicans in the House back when the “Dirty 30” were battling Speaker Mutscher were active members of the 30, including Tom Craddick. As the old saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”


    Some interesting figures from a column by Ross Ramsey in the Texas Tribune today:

    “According to the Legislative Reference Library, 23.9 percent of all of the women — all of them — who ever served in the Texas Legislature are in office right now. That’s 37 of the 155 who have served in the Texas Legislature’s history.

    About one in five Texas lawmakers is female. Over the state’s history, 2.8 percent of the 5,571 people who’ve served in the Legislature have been women. The 155 women who’ve served wouldn’t be enough — if they were all alive and in office today — to fill all 181 seats in the House and the Senate.”

    He suggests the behavior might be a little better if we had more women…..I’m not so sure of that when you consider a couple of the current ones, but we need more just to be representative of the world around us.

  • Bothen

    All this because the Democrats lost an election. It’s all they have been doing since they lost. So sad for Texas and the Country.

    • Jed

      yes, all this public awareness is definitely a downer. it was better before, when no one was complaining about obama.

  • Doubting Thomas

    “I was a foreigner, and you did not let me in.” (Matt 25:43) https://t.co/LRJCgWahmw


    For all of you who worked the Session, please take a few days off to rest….and don’t worry about my stuff…feel free to ignore it, as many do anyway.

    • BCinBCS

      Feeling a little low today, are we?