Newly elected lawmakers sometimes blend into the woodwork in Austin. But that’s not likely to happen to Republican Jason Villalba whose District 114 includes parts of North Dallas, Preston Hollow and Lake Highlands.
In the first week of the session Villalba is already gaining a reputation as an independent voice who wants to tackle big problems.
The routine is unfamiliar and the walls are still bare in Jason Villalba’s new legislative office. It’s located in the capitol extension two floors underground, where the newest representatives are usually assigned..
But decorating doesn’t appear to be the most important item on the 41-year old’s agenda. .
The Dallas investment attorney, and father of two little girls, is already making headlines for disagreeing with some of his Republican colleagues- including the governor- by saying the legislature needs to restore some of the public school money cut last session.
“I have children in the public schools so I care deeply about that issue,” explained Villalba. “I’m not one of those Republicans that believe we are fully funded at this point in public education. I think we need to consider bringing some of those resources back.”
Villalba says the additional money is needed to repair school buildings and improve teacher pay..
“We have a number of teachers who’ve been under a pay freeze for some years now and we’ve got to address that because the core of a public school system is to have dedicated and qualified and passionate teachers,” he said.
Villalba is also tweaking gun legislation he began shaping after the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. His “Protection of Texas Children Act” would give specially-trained school employees access to weapons if an armed intruder threatened their campus.
Villalba says his bill has been mischaracterized as providing the ability for teachers to carry guns in schools.
“That is not the objective here,” said Villalba. “What we are trying to do is expand law enforcement in the schools.
“This person would be undercover. This person would be a voluntary school marshal, and in the event that lethal force is being used then that person’s authority to access lethal force would spring under their deputized status. They could be the first responder in the emergency situation,” he said.
Villalba says he’s already getting enthusiastic support for the bill which could put him at the center of a timely, high profile school safety debate.
Within the Republican Party leaders like Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison are also touting Villalba as the future of the GOP, which is trying to attract more Hispanic candidates and voters.
And in the first week of the legislative session Villalba made the Texas Observer’s list of the top ten state legislators to watch.
Predictably, lobbyists and a whole host of others are stopping by Villalba’s office to introduce themselves. .
For those trying to get to know him Villalba has disclosed a few, seldom discussed facts, that may help break the ice.
“I was the lead singer in a rock band way back in the day,” he said adding he had a horrible voice.
He also describes himself as a “preeminent authority” on 1980’s alternative rock music.
“The bands I like to listen to are everything from Radiohead to the Pixies. I was inclined to bands like the Smiths or Siouxsie and the Banshees,” he said.
Villalba’s appetite for high energy entertainment may be just what’s needed if the rhythm of the session and his own visibility accelerate.