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SA lawmaker: Confrontation on Texas House floor ‘should be a wake-up call for Latinos'

Democratic representatives hoping for public apology on House floor

SAN ANTONIO – Lawmaker Philip Cortez said the last time he was in a scuffle, pushing and shoving, was when he was growing up on San Antonio’s South Side, which he now represents in the Texas House.

“Am I still angry about it? I am still angry about it, when I think about it,” Cortez said about the unprecedented confrontation on the final day of the 85th Legislature.   

Cortez said he was in the thick of it Monday morning on the House floor, along with state Reps. Justin Rodriguez, of San Antonio, and Poncho Nevarez, of Eagle Pass.

READ MORE: Scuffle, threats erupt on Texas House floor

He said they were talking about the boisterous protesters who had filled the Capitol rotunda and the House gallery, in opposition to Senate Bill 4 that was signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We call it the show-me-your-papers law,” Cortez said, because it allows law enforcement offiers to ask someone about their immigration status.

Cortez said the protest was loud enough to drown out the lawmakers conducting business below them.

He said that’s when state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, a Republican lawmaker from Irving, approached Cortez and his two colleagues.

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Cortez said Rinaldi was unable to confront the protesters, so he zeroed in on the three Latino lawmakers.

“He made it a point to walk right up to us and said, ‘I just called immigration on all of them,’” Cortez said. “We look at him, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘They’re illegal.’”

Cortez said the insult provoked a sharp verbal exchange that led to pushing and shoving involving other lawmakers.

“He was just looking for a fight,” Cortez said of Rinaldi.

Rinaldi has posted his version of events on his Facebook page but Cortez said he and Rodriguez both clearly heard what Rinaldi said to Nevarez: “I’ll put a bullet in your head.”

Cortez said, “That’s when we both looked at him and said, ‘What did you say about our colleague?”

Because Texas lawmakers are allowed to carry weapons inside the state Capitol, Cortez said, “You really never know whose packing heat.”

He said he doesn’t buy what Rinaldi is now saying, that he only wanted to defend himself if the argument moved outside as Nevarez suggested.

Rinaldi told reporters afterward: “They were saying stuff to me. I was saying stuff to them. Both of them designed to incite each other. All sides were emotional.”

RELATED: Troopers remove protesters from Texas House public gallery

However, Cortez said Rinaldi “lit the fuse.”

Cortez said the incident should be a wake-up call for Latinos, “Because when you don’t vote, you have representatives like this that will come up to us and say disparaging and borderline racist remarks about our people.”

He predicts more fallout during the looming special session. Cortez said he wants Rinaldi to apologize to the Texas House of Representatives and the people of Texas.

Cortez also said Rinaldi’s behavior may even result in censure or a public reprimand.

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