In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 30 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Stanton Stephens. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here .
There's something different about state Representative Jason Villalba, something that makes him stand out from his peers in the GOP. At first, it's tough to put your finger on it.
"A Hispanic Republican, right?" the freshman House member says, laughing. "That right there makes me interesting. There are only three Hispanic Republicans in basically all of Texas elected office at the Capitol."
That is interesting, but it's not quite what we mean. No, Villalba, who represents Dallas, seems different because he's so ... rational. In a political climate so often dominated by the lunatic fringe, the Dallas native made his mark in his first session by being focused on serious issues and polite about how he fights his battles. He filed a successful bill to create armed "school marshals," but made it clear that he wasn't in favor of indiscriminately arming teachers.
He drew fire from his fellow conservatives by saying that as long as Obamacare is the law of the land -- even though he's not a fan of it -- Texas needs to figure out the best way to implement it here. And he did it all with a touch of weird, ill-fitting normalcy, even quoting the lead singer of Rush on the House floor.
"I'm not about partisan politics," Villalba says, and you find yourself believing him. "My job as a community servant is ... about making sure that our neighborhoods are strengthened."
That's easy enough to say. Yet Villalba, who's 42 and a married father of soon-to-be three, has walked this talk, working on a bipartisan effort to create stricter laws for serial domestic abusers as well as a domestic violence registry. At Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' recent rally against domestic violence, he appeared onstage alongside Democratic
Senator Royce West in support of those bills. They didn't make it this session, but he says they'll be one of his "top priorities" next time. "I want to make sure we get some real changes," he says.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
And even though he's fervently anti-abortion, he didn't file any bills in that direction this session either. That's not what his constituents elected him to talk about, he says.
"I'm a problem solver," he says. "In my day job I'm a mergers and acquisitions lawyer. I bring stakeholders together to find consensus. I feel the same way about my role as an elected official and a public servant."
And in the end, Villalba says, there's plenty to agree on.
"We have an education system that needs work and reform. We've got a transportation system that is quickly beginning to deteriorate because of time. We've got a crisis in water that we need to address," he says. "Those are real issues that impact every Texan."