You changed your mind on a bill that you coauthored in 2017 with Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, that would criminalize abortions. In the 2019 session, you publicly opposed the bill. What prompted the shift?
Very candidly, when I signed onto that bill in 2017, I did not understand the criminal implications on the woman, and the possibility of that woman being convicted of homicide and subjecting her to the death penalty. I did realize that this session, and I was in no way, shape, or form comfortable with that public policy. I think it’s the wrong direction for the pro-life movement in Texas to be criminalizing women, and I decided very strongly not to support it this session. And I’m pro-life through-and-through and will not apologize for that, but this is the wrong direction for the pro-life movement.
That puts you in a small category of politicians who have made an about-face on one of their own issues. What would you say to purists or idealists who might call that kind of flexibility cowardice instead of compromise?
It’s not cowardice or compromise, it’s conviction. I am a conservative through-and-through and will not and have not apologized for that or shifted my position. My values are deeply rooted. It’s who I am, and political strategy and legislation changes, but my convictions, my core values do not.
In that case, what prompted leaving the Texas Freedom Caucus?
Those guys are my friends and colleagues, and in the fall, when I decided to depart from the Freedom Caucus, there was an understanding that it was a new day in the Texas House of Representatives under new leadership. There’s a time for everything, and last session, there was a need for me to be a part of the Freedom Caucus. This session, I believe that it was the best decision, and I was best equipped and positioned to serve my district and to be an effective leader of the House by leaving the Freedom Caucus and instead devoting my time and my energy to the House at large.
Would you say that your departure was just tactical, or does this represent a shift in your own thought?
No, it wasn’t just for tactics. Every session, every member of the Texas Legislature has to consider very deeply and seriously how he can best serve his district. My job is to be the state representative for District 67, and so every single session in the interim, before we go in, I’ve got to ask myself that question, “How can I most effectively advocate for the people who are depending on me?” And last session, the answer to that question for me was very clear. So I don’t think it’s tactical as much as it was just a personal decision for me to shift my focus elsewhere.
Should we expect a change in your voting pattern?
No. Again, my core convictions, my principles have not changed. So on issues relating to life and criminal justice, tax reform, and the role of government, my votes are going to reflect my values. Although I may not be a member of the Freedom Caucus any more, my values have not changed, and my votes won’t either.
How do you feel about this last session? Disappointed, content?
Oh, I’m elated. I’m confident as we come back home and live and work under the laws that we’ve created. I think it’s one of the most successful legislative sessions in the history of our state, certainly since I’ve been the Legislature, and I’m very grateful for all that we accomplished together.
What successes, specifically, would you pick out from the past 140 days?
A historic, transformational investment in education, substantive, very real reforms to education, meaningful property tax relief and reform, bold pro-life legislation, and smart criminal justice reforms. I, myself, was able to pass, I think, in upwards of 25 to 30 pieces of really strong legislation that I’m very, very proud of. I think all of us can come back home and have a lot to be proud of. We didn’t get everything we wanted done. I’ll be the first to admit that. But for 140 days, we focused on the big issues that are important to the people of this state, and I’m very proud to say that we delivered.
There was a moment this session when your wife, Becky, unlocked a deep, touching story about her past as a victim of sexual abuse. How else has this session gotten personal for you?
Well, that of course was a moment that I’ll never, ever forget, and it was personal for her, it was deeply personal for me as well, and I’m so proud of her and her voice and her courage. Being a legislator, leaving our family for five months every two years can be a blessing and a burden, but every day when I walk onto that floor of the Texas House, I think about my kids and wanting them to have the same Texas that I grew up in. I represent the district that I grew up in, and I want them to have the same opportunities that I had. That’s why I’m so happy about this session. I feel like we gave it to them, or we protected that for them. So I’m going to be honest with you, to answer your question, every day on the Texas House floor is personal.
After you stopped the abortion ban in committee, your family received violent threats. How did you deal with that?
It wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t pleasant at all. My family is the most important thing to me, and the fact that there are people out there who would threaten harm or suggest personal retribution for various policy reasons is just beyond me. I signed up for this, they didn’t. I can take the heat and I’m happy to do so, but the family of every legislator should be off-limits.
How would you put your core principles into words?
My conservative ideals and beliefs are deeply rooted in my faith and how I was raised and how I was brought up. It’s not something that shifts or changes with polls or different politicians. I will tell you that a big part of who I am is understanding that there are people who believe differently than me, who represent different districts than mine, who come from different faiths and political parties. The Texas House of Representatives is one of the great legislative bodies in all the world that still works, where 150 different people can come together and advocate vigorously but collaboratively. Being convicted but collaborative is a big part of who I am.
What do you see on the horizon?
You know what? I’m home now. I’m just going to … hold on just a second. Hold on just one second. Yeah, you can do the. … Sorry, bud. I literally just got home late last night. I hadn’t seen my kids in a few weeks, and I just got home, so they’re running around tugging on me.
I am glad to be home, going to take a little time just to breathe, catch my breath, spend time with my family, and in a matter of days, we’ll be back out meeting with constituents and gearing up for re-election to the Texas House.
The next 18 months is the most important part of my job. Being in Austin, being on the House floor is incredibly wonderful, but being back home, this is where it’s all at. This is what it’s all about. So over the next 18 months, I’m going to go on a listening tour of the district, run for re-election, and in January of 2021, hopefully be back for my fifth term in the Texas House.