Conflicting reports emerged on Memorial Day as reporters attempted to explain the circumstances leading to a scuffle among at least three Texas House members. Video of the scuffle shows as many as 20 House members in a tight configuration pushing one another until calm eventually emerged and members appeared to return to their desks.
Before and during the scuffle, at least one legislator directed powerfully offensive, profane language to another. Two legislators allegedly threatened bodily harm to one another. Reports indicate one representative threatened to use a gun on another, either to defend himself or to attack his colleague. So far as I could discern from the video, all the members engaged in the profanity, threats and physical shoving were men.
Although Texas and several other states have a rich history of legislative battles—symbolically and literally—I found disconcerting this public display of elected representatives losing control of themselves. When I first arrived in Texas 23 years ago, I asked one of our members why the Legislature only met every two years. He laughed and opined, “Well, they can do less harm that way.” I didn’t know he might have meant less physical harm!
To be fair to all parties, Senate Bill 4—already signed into a law requiring local police to enforce federal immigration law—that was being protested in the House has passionate supporters and detractors.
One of the representatives, an Anglo from the Dallas area, in response to noisy protestors in the balcony, delivered a profanity-laced statement and announced he had called Immigration and Customs Enforcement to report the protestors, some of whom he asserted were illegally in Texas. (One or more protestors held a sign saying, “I’m illegal and here to stay.”) Our state’s Hispanic representatives responded vigorously, and a heated exchange ensued. Three of our elected leaders involved in the skirmish have issued statements that contain conflicting accounts of what happened.
Add to this a recent statement by our governor that some are interpreting as a gun-related threat to reporters, and Texas is making headway to demonstrate the very real possibility of physical harm inflicted on elected leaders by one another or on reporters by elected leaders.
I know that some might laughingly say, “Would that be a loss?” but is this the best we can do? And, yes, it would be a loss!
I am grateful for representatives who are passionate about the issues we face today, but somehow, we must rise above personal threats, abusive language and physical aggression. If we don’t, someone may seriously suggest we bring back dueling to resolve our differences.
James R. Fuller is senior pastor of Calder Baptist Church in Beaumont.