Firebrand state Rep. Jonathan Stickland — now mired in perhaps his biggest controversy yet — on Monday spoke publicly for the first time since being kicked out of a House Committee hearing last week after concerns were raised that witness registration forms were improperly submitted.
“I did nothing against the rules. I did nothing against the law. I did nothing that was even wrong,” the 31-year-old Bedford Republican told the Star-Telegram. “I’m going to continue to stay down here and fight for limited government and conservative principles.”
Stickland said in a written statement that getting kicked out of a committee hearing last Thursday, after state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, raised concerns that witness registration forms were falsely submitted, was “an ambush by a political opponent.”
But Capitol insiders say this fight over rules and procedure may well go deeper.
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“At best, it is the appearance of impropriety,” said Harvey Kronberg, publisher of the Quorum Report, an Austin-based online political newsletter. “At worst, there’s potential for criminal violations.”
The committee hearing at issue was held hours after Stickland temporarily derailed a Pickett bill, House Bill 2346, from consideration. His move to get the bill off the House local and consent calendar sent the Democrat’s bill back to the Calendars Committee, where it waits to return to the House floor.
In the committee, before Stickland presented his bill, Pickett called people who allegedly turned in witness cards but weren’t present in Austin.
The House General Investigating and Ethics Committee is scheduled to meet Thursday “for the purpose of hearing invited testimony.” They will review concerns about witness affidavit forms and may meet in executive session “for the limited purpose of examining a witness or deliberating, considering, or debating a decision.”
“Obviously it’s disappointing the way everything went down,” Stickland said. “I think Rep. Pickett handled himself in the wrong way.
“I guarantee none of this would have happened if his bill hadn’t been knocked off the calendar,” he said. “I don’t regret it.”
Picket, who has declined to talk much about the investigation, did not respond to a request for an interview from the Star-Telegram Monday.
From the first day
Stickland has drawn attention, and criticism, from the first day of the 84th Legislature, when he was among the few House members who didn’t support incumbent Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, for House speaker.
He filed high-profile bills that still haven’t gotten much traction, with a month left to go in the session. Among them are measures: legalizing constitutional carry, the unlicensed open carrying of handguns; ending the use of red-light cameras; and repealing a law that lets illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition rates at public universities.
He has used his time at the back microphone in the House to ask why some of his bills haven’t gotten hearings, call for Texans to have the right to carry handguns openly and without licenses, delay consideration of some bills, argue with the Republican leadership and take them to task on a variety of issues.
Earlier this session, state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, weighed in on Stickland’s proposal to let Texans openly carry handguns without a license.
“The fate of your bill was cast when the Senate decided they were not going to take up constitutional carry,” said Phillips, who criticized Stickland for “how you treated members on this floor” in addition to how “those who support your [proposal] have treated members of this House, their families and their staff.”
Stickland has gotten into a few skirmishes with state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, who heads the House Administration Committee. First he posted a “former fetus” sign on his door, which Geren removed because it violates House rules, and Stickland went on social media to say it was ripped down and thrown in the face of one of his staffers.
Last month, he began taking unrelated bills off the local and consent calendar. “Quite a few bad bills on today’s local and consent calendar,” he posted on Twitter. “We can’t have that.”
“His M.O. is to stand at the back mic and be a martyr,” Pickett told the Texas Tribune last week. “His whole thing is, ‘Woe is me, nobody likes me, I can’t get any bills passed so I’m going to sit here and cause disruption.’”
Red light camera bill
Last week, during a House Transportation Committee meeting, Pickett accused Stickland of listing witness who were not even in Austin as among the supporters of his HB 142, which would eliminate red light cameras in Texas.
Pickett asked Stickland to leave the hearing or be escorted out. Stickland left the room, with a House sergeant following him.
Pickett has told the media that he mentioned concerns about witness affirmation forms, which are turned in by people who want to participate in a hearing, to state Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, who heads the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics.
Kuempel, who did not respond to a request for an interview Monday, has told the media that no one person is being targeted but there “will be an investigation into allegations of broken rules.”
Stickland said that his attorneys have reviewed legislative manuals, laws and rules and haven’t found anything stating that a person “must be present in the Capitol to register their support or opposition to a bill."
And he said he has been told that he and his staff aren’t being investigated. “It’s about witness affirmation forms,’” Stickland said.
He did say he got a notice, as he believed other lawmakers did who had bills before the Transportation Committee last week, saying he and his staff shouldn’t delete any emails or phone records.
Stickland said he didn’t do anything wrong.
“I never filled one [witness form] out, ever,” he said. “I wouldn’t have even known how to do it.”
And he said he’s not about to let this interfere with what he went to Austin to do.
“At the end of the day, my constituents didn’t send me back to Austin to be popular,” Stickland said. “They sent me to stop the growth of government, uphold their rights and uphold my oath to the constitution.
“Nothing like this is going to slow me down.”
Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610
Red light camera election
A proposal to end red-light cameras statewide was the issue in the House committee, but Arlington residents get to vote on a proposal to end the cameras in their city no matter what the Texas Legislature does.
On the Arlington ballot is a proposal to prohibit photographic traffic signal enforcement. Voters wanting to ban the cameras vote “for” the proposal. Those wanting to keep the cameras should vote “against” the proposition.