Bud Kennedy

On the last day of the Legislature, an ICE call and ‘I’ll put a bullet in your head’

State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Farmers Branch, in the Texas House on Monday.
State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Farmers Branch, in the Texas House on Monday. KVUE-TV

Just when this Texas Legislature was too grim to joke about, along came the Texas House to uphold the long-standing tradition of providing national entertainment.

On a final day usually reserved for photos with nephews or welcoming cotton pageant queens, the House erupted in an old-fashioned shoving match more fitting for midnight at the Broken Spoke dance hall than lunchtime at the Capitol.

State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, a young Freedom Caucus lawyer representing Irving and Farmers Branch, was armed with a cellphone and maybe a firearm.

When United We Dream protesters surrounded the House floor chanting against Texas’ new law letting police ask the immigration status of folks who may or may not all happen to be various shades of brown, Rinaldi drew his cellphone and called in a federal immigration complaint.

We know exactly what happened next, because it’s what always happens. Another Freedom Caucus member posted video of Rinaldi on Facebook.

Then Mr. Freedom Caucus went and told Fort Worth state Rep. Ramon Romero and other Democrats something like “I just called ICE to have all these people deported.”

In the ensuing shoving match, Eagle Pass Democratic state Rep. Poncho Nevárez may or may not have replied that he’d “get” Rinaldi outside.

Either way, Rinaldi definitely replied by threatening to shoot Nevárez, and Rinaldi may or may not have used the exact words, “I’ll put a bullet in your head.”

In the Texas Legislature, we don’t call cranky comments, cussing or shoving an “incident.” We just call that Monday.

Anyway, for some reason national news reporters suddenly took an interest in Texas again, having spent all spring kicking President Trump in the backchannel.

CNN headlined: “Protest and turmoil rock Texas session.”

(That reminds me of the old headline “Fight erupts at hockey game.”)

Other newspapers focused on the Texan-with-a-gun story: “Texas Lawmaker Threatens to Shoot Colleague” (The New York Times) or “Lawmakers scuffle and threaten gun violence” (Los Angeles Times).

Folks, this was no big deal.

I’ve heard Texas House members make worse threats. Just never before happy hour.

Anyway, whenever Mr. Freedom Caucus comments again, I have these questions:

▪ What part of freedom includes siccing federal authorities on Capitol visitors over a suspected civil infraction?

(Rinaldi said he saw signs saying crowd members were “illegal and here to stay.” But videos show no signs, only a “here to stay” group chant. Seven in 10 Texas Latinos are U.S.-born.)

▪ What does it say when often-volatile state Rep. Jonathan Stickland has to be the peacemaker who intervenes, apologizes and brings a voice of reason?

▪ And what in the world made Rinaldi think a federal agency would respond on a holiday?

I’ll watch for the answers on Facebook.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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