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Exchange of Words Between Former Friends Caps Off Tense Week at Lege

A South Texas border brawl, complete with personal attacks about weight and cowardice, took place between former allies Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, and Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco.

Rep. Aaron Pena (R-Edinburg) speaks at the TribLive event at the LBJ School on February 28, 2011

A South Texas border brawl, complete with personal attacks about weight and cowardice, took place between former allies Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg and Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco.

A bill Martinez filed would have required city managers that assume the duties of a police or fire chief to undergo the prerequisite training required of appointed chiefs. The bill's purpose, according to its analysis, was “to prevent unqualified City Managers from appointing themselves as [a] ‘department head.’”

As it turns out, there was more of a back story Peña wanted members to know about. He rose to speak in opposition (he tweeted that he planned to do so about an hour before the debate) and asked Martinez, a firefighter, if it wasn’t true that he was under an investigation from the very same city manager that assumed the duties. Peña said he tried to raise the issue during Thursday’s floor debate but Martinez “ran away.” 

“I didn’t run away. Maybe I thought you were going to eat me,” Martinez told Peña. A mix of cheers, laughter, jeers and hisses ensued.

But Peña didn’t seem fazed and kept perusing the question, despite repeated pleas from the speaker’s chair to remain on point and debate the merits of the bill (state Rep. Dennis Bonnen was in the chair). Peña began to read aloud a letter sent to Martinez from Weslaco City Manager Leonardo Olivares urging Martinez to pull the legislation, arguing it was “a solution in search of a problem.”

“There is a potential conflict of interest and this could be construed as self-serving legislation,” the letter states. Penã said the letter was posted on his website if members wanted to read the rest, which was greeted with another bang of the gavel in the hopes of restoring order.

Again Peña asked about the investigation, to which Martinez replied: “Rep. Peña should be investigated for not living in his district.”

Because of the commotion, members may not have noticed veteran lawmaker, state Rep. Senfonia Thompson, D-Houston, walking toward Martinez. Martinez did, however, and leaned in to hear what the longest-serving Democratic member and respect-commanding lawmaker said.

“I apologize for any remarks I have made,” he told the floor before the vote.

The bill failed to adopt following a 36 to 78 vote, but the sparring seemed an appropriate end to a week where partisan gridlock tested tempers and seemed capable of derailing an entire session.

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