Irving's Matt Rinaldi celebrated being named one of the Observer's worst representatives of the 2017 session with a bang Monday by calling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on people protesting Texas' new anti-sanctuary city law at the state Capitol. During an ensuing skirmish on the Texas floor, Rinaldi threatened to shoot Democratic state Rep. Poncho Nevarez.
Rinaldi threw a fit after several protesters in a boisterous House gallery raised signs that said, "I am illegal and here to stay," the representative said. After seeing the signs, the representative said in a statement late Monday, he called federal immigration authorities.
When he told several Democrats what he'd done, all hell broke loose on the floor, according to Rinaldi.
"When I told the Democrats I called ICE, Rep. Ramon Romero physically assaulted me, and other Democrats were held back by colleagues," Rinaldi said.
Romero, speaking at a House press conference, told a different story.
"We were looking above [to the gallery]. We were waving, and that's when he decided to come by us and tell us that he called ICE," Romero said. "Our first reaction was to say, 'You've got to be kidding me.'"
According to Romero, after being told that he was kidding, Rinaldi responded, "Fuck them." Rinaldi and members of the Mexican American Legislative Conference got into a shoving match on the floor. Eventually, Rinaldi threatened to shoot Nevarez, according to Rinaldi.
"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 in his statement.
Later, Nervarez, gave his version of events: "For that guy [Rinaldi] to say what he did and think that there's no reckoning, or no repercussions or nothing coming, he's wrong. Today, he just picked the wrong people to say that to. He's lucky that there were more people around because, while pushing and shoving and anything beyond that isn't acceptable and shouldn't happen out there and I'm sorry it happened, the fact is, he's asking for it," Nervarez said. "I [am] here to tell this to him or anybody else who thinks that it's funny to say that, not in my face."
Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchia, head of the Mexican American Legislative Conference, said Rinaldi's meltdown was a moment of clarity.
"The one positive of it is, at the 140 day mark, you finally hear some honesty from some state legislators who really do believe that Latinos should be deported from the United States, be they citizens or noncitizens alike," Anchia said.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican like Rinaldi, issued a noncommittal statement late Monday.
"There’s no excuse for members making insensitive and disparaging remarks on the floor of the Texas House," Straus said.