Dallas Observer: Former State Rep. Jason Villalba Is (Maybe) the Last Kid in the Mayoral Pool

January 15, 2019

By Stephen Young

Looks like it’s going to be eight. Former state Rep. Jason Villalba added his name to Dallas’ long list of mayoral candidates Tuesday morning, becoming the eighth, and likely final, candidate to join the race.

Villalba is trying his hand at municipal politics after being ousted from his seat in the Texas House by primary challenger Lisa Luby Ryan in March 2018. Ryan challenged Villalba from the right, assailing his support of increased vaccine requirements for Texas and his criticism of President Donald Trump.

Ryan won the primary fight against Villalba, but lost to Democrat John Turner by 11 points in the general election. Villalba was too moderate for House District 114’s Republican primary voters. Ryan was too conservative for the district as a whole.

Tuesday, the former representative looked to walk the moderate line again, focusing on Dallas’ racial and economic divides in a speech in front of his grandmother’s house in Oak Cliff.

“A community divided by race and income disparity cannot fulfill the greatest potential of its residents. Dallas is already great, but with new and dynamic leadership, and through the power of community, Dallas can be transcendent,” Villalba said. “We have so much to offer, but we also have the highest percentage of uninsured and undereducated children in the country. We have first responders who are leaving our community because of poor pay and a broken pension system. We have neighborhoods where the streets are literally blowing up and harming our families because our infrastructure is old and crumbling.”

The former state representative touted his experience in Austin as proof that he can work with state leaders on behalf of Dallas, rather than merely trying to defend the city from the Legislature, as outgoing Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings so often found himself doing.

Villalba believes that Dallas, an overwhelmingly Democratic city, will give him a chance thanks to his repudiation of Trump — he called for the president’s impeachment in a Texas Tribune op-ed — and fairly moderate legislative record. In Austin, Villalba notably supported LGBTQ rights, helping a bill that would’ve protected the LGBTQ community from employment discrimination get further than it ever has in the Legislature in 2017. During the same session, however, he did vote for the state’s controversial “sanctuary cities” bill, which remains hung up in court.

The Republican Party has left pragmatic politicians like him behind, he told the Observer last week, but he believes his record in Austin translates will to municipal politics.

“I have broken bread and spent time with every single member of the Texas Legislature — one of them, from a party of which I was not a member, is here to today — and I am certain that they will fight for our cause.,” Villalba said.

So now there’s a former state representative in the race. He joins a nonprofit fundraiser (Lynn McBee), a Dallas City Council member (Scott Griggs), a developer (Mike Ablon), a former Hillary Clinton adviser (Regina Montoya), Dallas’ former city attorney (Larry Casto), a Dallas ISD Board member (Miguel Solis) and a prominent businessman (Albert Black).

Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He’s a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.

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