Police labor associations can be kingmakers in Texas politics, electing mayors and now and then, a Tarrant County state senator.
At 30, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford has taken an unusual political approach to police groups.
To him, they’re “union thugs.”
In one of the more entertaining Twitter exchanges lately, Stickland took a cyberswing at two statewide police groups, calling them thugs because of their endorsement of Fort Worth Democrat Libby Willis to succeed state Sen. Wendy Davis in Texas Senate District 10.
That wasn’t a surprise. Willis is the daughter-in-law of former state senator and state Rep. Doyle Willis, author of the state civil-service law and a constant campaigner for police and fire benefits and pensions.
Republicans, including former Fort Worth state Sen. Kim Brimer, have sided strongly with police and fire groups, and the affection has been returned.
But not Stickland.
Last spring, at the height of a bitter re-election campaign against a fellow Republican, Stickland wrote on Twitter that he is “proud to be supported by many LEOs in HEB [law enforcement officers in Hurst-Euless-Bedford] and proud their union thug bosses oppose me.”
The age-old “thugs” slam for unions was widely applied to public employees in the bitter 2012 Wisconsin debate over police, fire and teachers’ benefits.
Last week, Stickland wrote on Twitter that “union thugs” from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) and Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA) “once again show true colors” by endorsing Willis over Colleyville Republican Konni Burton, a former Tea Party co-founder inspired by Sarah Palin and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
Both organizations endorsed Greg Abbott over Davis and are backing many Republicans — but not all.
Before Stickland’s easy primary win, TMPA spokesman Lon Craft called him “one of the worst state representatives in Texas history.”
Stickland, a devotedly libertarian Republican, opposed the labor groups on several bills involving what he saw as an overreach of police authority.
“When I say ‘union thugs,’ I’m talking about their Austin establishment lobbyists,” Stickland said Tuesday.
“The police in my district know I support them. There were some laws on privacy and civil liberties I didn’t like.”
He also doesn’t like the groups working with both parties.
“Most groups have some consistency about what they stand for,” he said, “but these guys are all over the map.”
CLEAT spokesman John Moritz said his organization works with both parties because that’s how major legislation gets passed.
The group started playfully tagging Twitter comments “#CLEATthugs.”
“If the representative will take a look, he’ll see we’re not thugs,” Moritz said.
“We are dedicated to representing Texas police officers with labor rights, and making sure their rights are protected if they’re ever called to the courthouse.”
CLEAT specifically cited Willis’ father-in-law’s legacy.
“Libby Willis has been like a family member to Texas law enforcement officers for many years,” CLEAT President Todd Harrison, an Austin police sergeant, was quoted as saying. “Her views … have deep roots in our family tree.”
Burton, busy with speeches including one to national bloggers last week at the RedState.com convention, and Willis have not responded directly.
Let the guys tweetfight.