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The Dallas Morning News: Why a former Republican lawmaker says he wants to be Dallas’ next mayor

January 15, 2019

By Corbett Smith, Staff Writer

Former Republican state Rep. Jason Villalba said he waited the past six weeks for someone to enter the Dallas mayoral race who could work with others on complex issues and “get big things done.”

On Tuesday, the at-times combative politician — who lost his re-election bid last year — said he decided he was that person.

In front of his 88-year-old grandmother’s house in west Oak Cliff, Villalba officially launched his campaign to replace term-limited Mayor Mike Rawlings, saying he could take Dallas to “that next transcendent level of being a world-class city.”

“We need someone who has a foot in the north and a foot in the south — and I do,” Villalba said. “Somebody who has business experience. Somebody who has experience working with the Texas Legislature, and getting things done at the highest of high levels. And I’ve done that.”

Villalba has some name recognition from his time in the Legislature — and million-dollar fundraising chops that few in the field can match. But even though the mayor’s race is nonpartisan, Villalba is a Republican running for office in a Democratic city.

A lawyer and businessman who specializes in private equity, Villalba, 47, dismissed those concerns, saying that “telephone poles and potholes aren’t Republican or Democrat.”

“If you’ve watched my career at all, you know that I don’t adhere to orthodoxy,” he said.

Villalba rankled both sides during his time in Austin. He sponsored a bill allowing school districts to allow licensed employees to become school marshals, and authored another piece of legislation — which he would later back away from — that would’ve made it illegal for residents to film within 25 feet of police activity.

But he also opposed the conservative push for a bathroom bill last session. And he called for the impeachment of President Donald Trump and introduced legislation in 2015 that would have eliminated non-medical conscience exemptions from vaccines at public schools.

Villalba, who was elected to the Texas House in 2012, drew Republican primary opponents in 2016 and 2018 who ran to his right. While he fended off the challenge in 2016, he lost last year to Lisa Luby Ryan, who lost in the general election.

Villalba — a Dallas native who graduated from South Grand Prairie High School before getting degrees from Baylor and the University of Texas law school — offered broad outlines of his five-point mayoral platform.

He said he wants to improve crumbling infrastructure, bolster Dallas’ Police and Fire Pension System — he had blasted Rawlings’ handling of those negotiations on social media — and provide a competitive wage for police officers and firefighters. He also said he wants to bring $1 billion in investment in southern Dallas over the next eight years and “dream big.”

“I don’t see the Calatrava bridge as a ‘vanity project,'” he added, referring to the bridges that span the Trinity River and have drawn criticism from some who see them as extravagant spending. “That is a visionary project that’s helped to bridge the north and the south.”

He said he announced his campaign in front of his grandmother Celia’s home to “pay respect to her for being the matriarch for the family, but also to recognize the power of community is what drives people like me.”

“She held three jobs to be able to pay for everybody — and as a result of that, everybody in her family went on to do great things,” Villalba said.

Villalba is the ninth candidate to officially announce a mayoral run. The others are Design District developer Mike Ablon, businessman Albert Black Jr., former City Attorney Larry Casto, outgoing City Council member Scott Griggs, former Socialist Workers Party presidential candidate Alyson Kennedy, nonprofit CEO Lynn McBee, former Clinton administration aide Regina Montoya and Dallas ISD trustee Miguel Solis.

The filing period for the mayor and council races runs from Jan. 16 to Feb. 15. The elections are in May, with a June runoff if a candidate doesn’t get 50 percent of the votes.

The Dallas Morning News


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