Rep. Jonathan Stickland was loud and ineffective, but he matched our political times

‘It is never OK to target personal homes or businesses’: Texas state Rep. Jonathan Stickland

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Ron Paul-style libertarian Republican from Bedford, was announced that his bill legalizing permitless carry was “dead.”
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State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Ron Paul-style libertarian Republican from Bedford, was announced that his bill legalizing permitless carry was “dead.”

Like any big group, the Legislature breaks down to certain personality types. There are the movers, who get the heavy work of policy done. There’s the furniture, so named because they blend in without much notice. There are the ideological firebrands, committed to their cause.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland certainly fit the last of those categories. And Texas Monthly was compelled to create a whole new one just for him: the “cockroach.”

The magazine, in its venerable listing of the best and worst legislators for this year’s session, said Stickland had gone beyond the “worst” list, where he’d become a regular feature, to deserving special recognition as a lawmaker who “accomplishes nothing but always manages to show up in the worst possible way.”

Stickland, R-Bedford, announced Monday that four terms in the House is enough. And we agree. His chief causes —limited government, personal freedom, gun rights — deserve a better standard bearer.

If you’re unfamiliar with Stickland’s brand of preening, all you need to know is that in his Facebook announcement of his departure, he declared: “Eight years was enough for George Washington, and it certainly is for me.”

Stickland missed a key difference. Washington excelled at triumphing in his war despite losing more battles than he won.

How his causes suffered

Time and again, Stickland raged about personal freedom, shrinking government, and the unfairness he perceived in how the House was run. Time and again, his causes went down in flames.

Here’s just one measure of how ineffective he was: Stickland leaves having passed only one bill in four terms, to kill red-light cameras.

And yet, he managed to dominate the conversation in a way few others have. If politics and celebrity (perhaps we repeat ourselves?) is now about getting famous without actually accomplishing anything, Stickland is an icon of our time.

Journalist/author Lawrence Wright told a typical Stickland story in his book about the recent GOP governing of Texas -- how the young lawmaker nearly got in a fight over his effort to cut state money for eliminating feral hogs. A colleague retaliated with a bill to slash highway funding from Stickland’s district, prompting then-House Speaker Joe Straus to quip to Wright: “I guess all the hogs are going to move to north Arlington.”

Stickland’s worst moments

We could highlight plenty of cringe-worthy moments -- Stickland’s comments as a young man about rape during marriage, his habit of killing colleagues’ legislation, even the most innocuous of bills, the time he was kicked out of a committee meeting over charges he’d tried to manipulate testimony on a bill.

Stickland has poorly represented the tea-party libertarianism that has been a force in Texas and national Republican politics. At a 2009 town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, Stickland -- a devotee of libertarian Rep. Ron Paul -- asked questions so belligerent, local tea party leaders asked him if he’d like to run for office.

Stepping aside might be the most he can do now to advance those causes. With him gone, District 92 voters stand a much better chance of electing a legislator who would actually be effective in working for smaller government.

One way or another, though, his successor will be no Jonathan Stickland, who reminded us of what seems to be a cardinal rule in American politics today: If you can’t be effective, at least be entertaining.

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