Bedford Republican Jonathan Stickland has long been the court jester of Texas' House of Representatives. Since his election in 2012, he's positioned himself as a darling of the Tea Party and antagonistic right, never shying away from a political stunt or a chance to hear his voice projected from the House chamber's back microphone. While he's frequently cited as one of Texas' worst legislators, the Observer prefers to sit back and appreciate Stickland's antics as a kind of performance art.
This year, like an athlete just entering his prime, Stickland is putting everything he's learned in his previous three legislative terms to good use, turning his flair for the theatrical, maddening or just ridiculous into a session for the ages. With about a month to go before the end of Texas' regular legislative season, let's look at all the joy Stickland has brought to our lives this year.
The story of Stickland's 2019 begins with an ominous interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in December. The representative, apparently sick of being best known for having had one of his colleagues try to lead him away from a House microphone with a cookie and getting busted for writing posts about marijuana use and spousal rape on a fantasy football message board, promised to "try a little more honey than vinegar this (year)."
For those political junkies who rely on Stickland's antics — he once replaced his capitol building office sign with a facsimile that read "former fetus" rather than "state representative" the day before Planned Parenthood representatives were to visit the capitol — to make it through the inevitable drudgery that bubbles up during a legislative session, the words felt like a betrayal. Could Stickland really be abandoning his role as the Texas House's largest adult son?
Those who doubted the high-school dropout should've had more faith.
So far this session, Stickland's honey-first approach has led to one of his colleagues making fun of his weight on the House floor.
He's up to all his old tricks, including arguing against seemingly innocuous bills just to gum up the House's works. In addition to arguing for swimming hole creation, Stickland stopped debate on two bills listed on the local and consent calendar — which is typically reserved for uncontroversial legislation — by speaking about the bills until a time-limit for voting on them passed and they were sent back to committee. One of the bills sought to limit suicides committed by minors by helping kids whose parents refuse or are unable to seek mental health treatment for them.
Stickland's only explanation for his effort to kill the bills came in a cryptic tweet.
The representative showed more candor about being on the wrong end of a 148-1 vote on the House's school finance plan — he complained that schools in his district didn't get their "fair share of the money" — and being the sole vote against a bill passed by the House this week to fix the state's teacher retirement system.
"I refuse to act like it’s more than a one time fix," he tweeted. "Retired teachers deserve a permanent fix to their retirement, not another band-aid. They aren’t political pawns."
All of this from someone who said that he "cannot participate in political theater" when he declared his "constitutional carry" legislation dead earlier this year.
Over the next month, Stickland will have plenty of additional opportunities to take quixotic stands and kill bills as the House approaches key deadlines. Last year, he and his allies in the Texas Freedom Caucus killed dozens of bills in what's become known as the Mother's Day massacre, as retribution for former Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus refusing to move forward on popular conservative legislation like the so-called "bathroom bill." Despite his protestations to the contrary, Stickland looks set to do battle all over again.