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Trey Martinez Fischer and Jonathan Stickland, two very boisterous characters in the Texas House, find themselves in hand-to-hand political combat in this year’s primaries. A loss by either or both would make the Legislature a much quieter place — and both are locked in tough elections.
Stickland, R-Bedford, is running against both his opponent and against his own online history, asking voters to forgive him for a now-exposed internet trail of indisputably misogynistic and racist trolling that the 32-year-old now attributes to the ignorance of his youth. It doesn’t help that he’s running against a preacher — Scott Fisher — who’s in the position to tut from seemingly high moral ground.
Against that, Stickland can argue that in his first two sessions as a legislator, he has brought attention and some media savvy to the loud but relatively small caucus of anti-establishment Republicans in the House. He’s hard to ignore — an asset for a voting minority.
Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, has decided to give up his seat in the Texas House to challenge a former ally, José Menéndez, in a rematch for a state Senate seat. His blustery style, like Stickland’s, has generated both a fan base and a foe base. But he’s been at this longer, and he offers a more sophisticated version of dissent. Even his enemies acknowledge his ability to interrupt and shape legislative debates with points of order and showy histrionics from the House’s back microphone. He regularly serves up the Democratic arguments in partisan debates. He’s loud, which helps in a place where the Democrats are outnumbered 98-52.
But even his friends are sometimes repelled by his antics, as when he characterized the GOP as “gringos y otros pendejos” at a state Democratic Party convention. Or when he wheeled to confront Speaker Joe Straus during a debate on the House floor, flipping his mic around so that he faced the dais instead of the colleagues he had hoped to win to his side.
Each man is his own best argument, and his worst one.
TMF, as he is known in political circles, came to the House in 2001; Stickland landed a dozen years later. The older of the two bulls doesn’t particularly like being compared to the younger — and his irritation seems to be based on experience more than politics. “There are few things I loathe. One of them is being compared with Jonathan Stickland,” he said this week. “He hasn’t earned it.”
Experience might help, if he can buy more time in office. Stickland is seeking re-election, with some resistance. Fisher has the endorsement of former Gov. Rick Perry, the first big-time Republican in Texas to embrace the Tea Party and a favorite for years of conservative and evangelical Republicans. It’s usually prudent to bet on the incumbent, but this is a serious race nonetheless.
Martinez Fischer would easily have won re-election, even if challenged. But he decided to run for a full term in the Senate instead. He’s seeking to reverse the results of the special election that put Menéndez in office last year. That’s a harder proposition. Now his opponent is an incumbent, with all of the support that entails and with the added advantage that people who might otherwise support both men — one for each chamber of the Legislature — are likely to hesitate before opposing last year’s winner.
They don’t post job descriptions for legislators, but there are distinct functions in the House and the Senate:
• Work horses are the nose-to-the-grindstone types who have serious things in mind and persistently act to get those things done.
• Show horses want to be noticed, admired and awarded for their sheer awesomeness — or for what they think is sheer awesomeness.
• Whiners are the reactive folk who register their positions too late to have much effect on other lawmakers, and then gripe about how their side got beat, and the unfairness of it all.
• Ghosts are the people you elect and hardly ever hear from again. They can enter and leave a room without making an impression — negative or positive.
• And then there are the gadflies. Technically, gadflies are insects that pester livestock. The dictionary has another definition: “an annoying person, especially one who provokes others into action by criticism.”
That’s a decent description of what Trey Martinez Fischer has been for the Democrats, and what Jonathan Stickland might become for the Republicans.
But there could be a job opening, or two, after the March 1 primaries.