Texas

Texas Rep. Jonathan Stickland won’t seek re-election: ‘It is not the Lord’s will.’

Stickland warns Tea Party leaders about fierce general election challenges

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland tells members of the NE Tarrant Tea Party that winning the primary is no longer enough for Texas conservatives.
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State Rep. Jonathan Stickland tells members of the NE Tarrant Tea Party that winning the primary is no longer enough for Texas conservatives.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland — long known as a firebrand and political bomb-thrower — will not seek another term in office.

The 35-year-old Bedford Republican announced Monday morning that he was leaving the office he has held since 2013 on his own terms.

“Eight years was enough for George Washington, and it certainly is for me,” he posted on Facebook. “After much prayerful consideration and reflection, I have determined it is not the Lord’s will for me to seek re-election.

“Instead, I intend to dedicate more time to my family, my church, and my business,” he wrote. “It was never my intention to grow old in office.”

Stickland, a staunch and vocal Tea Party conservative, stressed that he never gave up or sold out.

He has been a lightning rod since taking office, drawing headlines for everything from pushing expanded gun rights in Texas to being part of an investigation about whether witness cards for a legislative committee hearing were falsified.

He narrowly won his 2018 re-election bid.

“Rep. Stickland’s effectiveness has been waning and he effectively became a party of one in the Legislature as he fought battles with less support than sessions past,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “He was the target of much of the ire from both parties for, in their opinion, obstructing the process.

“There is a sense that the conservative movement has lost momentum and Rep. Stickland was the lone voice preaching to a dwindling flock of true believers.”

This leaves up for grabs in next year’s election the job of representing House District 92, which includes Hurst, Bedford and parts of Arlington, Fort Worth and Grand Prairie.

Stickland supporters shared messages on social media.

“At first this will surely seem like devastating news,” wrote Julie White McCarty, who heads the NE Tarrant Tea Party. “Just know that lots of plans are in the works. Folks ask me to run for office all the time. My response is always, ‘I’m more useful out here.’ I believe the same is true for Stickland. He’s my trusted friend, and I support this decision 100%.

“The fight not only continues ... we just got stronger.”

Critics also weighed in on Stickland’s decision.

“Texas is the biggest battleground state. Republicans know it,” Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party, said in a written statement. “The simple facts are that Jonathan Stickland is too far to the right for Texas and represents an increasingly Democratic district.”

Key moments

Stickland drew attention late in the session not only for speaking out against certain bills, but also for being the only one to vote against key bills such as school finance and retired teachers pension funds.

“People have noticed his votes and that he’s on an island,” Brian Hodgdon, executive director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, said during the session.

This year marked the first time since taking office that Stickland passed a bill — the plan to eliminate red light cameras throughout Texas, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law.

He often butted heads with House leadership, was a vocal presence at the back microphone in the House and has been the centerpiece of many dramatic moments in the Legislature.

“He truly was loyal opposition,” said Bill Miller, an Austin-based political consultant.

This session, he pushed a plan known as “constitutional carry,” which would let Texans carry handguns without having a license, that prompted a gun rights advocate to visit the homes of some lawmakers, including House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, when legislators were in Austin.

Bonnen, who said he received death threats this session, declared Stickland’s bill dead.

So did Stickland. “I cannot participate in political theater and ask that Texans come to Austin to spend their time and money for a piece of legislation that has no path to success,” he wrote in a statement.

In 2017, he and members of the Texas Freedom Caucus — a right-leaning group dedicated to fighting for conservative causes — became frustrated late in the session because they felt their voices weren’t being heard.

That led to what has become known as the Mother’s Day Massacre, when Stickland and other upset caucus members used procedural moves to kill more than 100 bills.

And in 2015, Stickland was kicked out of a House Committee hearing — as he was presenting a bill to ban red light cameras — after concerns were raised that witness registration forms were improperly submitted.

“I did nothing against the rules. I did nothing against the law,” he told the Star-Telegram at the time. “I did nothing that was even wrong. I’m going to continue to stay down here and fight for limited government and conservative principles.”

Battle for HD 92

The focus for many now turns to the HD 92 district.

Filing for next year’s election doesn’t begin until later this year, but many already are looking at this district.

“It’s a Republican seat under most circumstances,” Miller said. “But the circumstances these days are unusual.

“This seat absolutely will be in play.”

Stickland narrowly won his 2018 re-election bid with 49.8 percent of the vote against Democratic challenger Steve Riddell’s 47.43 percent. Libertarian Eric P. Espinoza claimed 2.75 percent of the vote.

Riddell said he has never stopped running — and will again seek to represent HD 92 next year.

“Mr. Stickland’s departure is a great opportunity to change the tone, tenor and quality of this community’s representation in Austin,” Riddell said.

On the Republican side, former Bedfrod City Councilman Jeff Cason has announced that he’s running for this seat.

Other potential candidates mentioned include Trasa Robertson Cobern, a teacher and former Hurst City Councilwoman who unsuccessfully ran for Tarrant County Tax Assessor last year, and Bedford City Councilman Roger Fisher, who unsuccessfully ran for the GOP nomination for the post in 2012. Fisher said he’s “in prayerful consideration” with his family about HD 92.

A website set up for the “Dogs of HD-92,” after Stickland killed an animal protection bill many had hoped would pass, cheered Monday’s announcement.

“While the Empower Texan crew will likely find another terrible candidate to back, today we can relax ... but stay tuned, we will #resist any animal unfriendly candidate,” the website posted on Facebook.

Moving forward

Stickland has been described by Texas Monthly as someone who seems to be “at war with the world.” This year, when the magazine released its list of best and worst lawmakers, writers created an entirely new category for him: Cockroach.

He has said he often felt the need to fight in the Legislature, working on behalf of “liberty.”

“There’s no doubt he was often willing to do what no one else would when it came to championing certain causes or issues in the House,” state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, posted on Facebook. “I will especially miss his voice and efforts in those areas.

“I am sure he will find some way to stay involved in the political/policy scene. I look forward to seeing what that will be,” he wrote. “Until then, Godspeed Sticky!”

Stickland thanked his supporters for the work they’ve done on his behalf for years.

But he said it’s time for him to leave.

“I don’t want to turn into what we’ve been fighting and become part of the establishment,” he wrote on Facebook.

And while he said part of him will miss serving in the Legislature, he looks forward to “gaining some of our personal lives back.”

“This is not goodbye,” Stickland said in his post. “This is just a new chapter for the Stickland family. The fight and defense of liberty never stops for us.

“It will just take a different shape.”

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.

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