State Senator Don Huffines offered a partial apology Monday night for his “tone” during a scheduled conversation with parents, teachers, administrators, and students, but also called the planned meeting an “ambush-style attack.”
Some of the people asking the senator questions were students as young as 13.
“That is selfishness! What are you scared of? What are y’all scared of?” the senator asked while raising his voice after a question about school vouchers.
PTA representatives and students questioned their tax dollars going to private schools.
“What makes you think it’s your money?” the senator shouted. “They’re the taxpayers. It’s the businesses. They’re the taxpayers. Sixty-two percent of all property tax is paid by business.”
It was a scheduled meeting with four lawmakers during Texas PTA Rally Day in Austin. Representative Linda Coop, Sen. Van Taylor, and Rep. Angie Chen Button also attended.
But it was a two-minute portion of the meeting featuring Huffines that drew swift condemnation when Richardson parent Meredyth Childress posted it on Facebook.
“You can see from the video that it’s pretty indicative of most of the time Senator Huffines spoke,” Childress told WFAA. “I think he came on the defense, was very combative. You can see from the video, what you saw is what we got.”
Huffines' response, for example, to a question from a student about school vouchers:
“It doesn’t pay for all their education does it? The $5,000 won’t pay for it. So it doesn’t pay for it. So you’re saying that OK, since we’re not giving them enough money to pay for all their education then screw ‘em they can’t go to private school?” Huffines said. “Do you want me to give them $15,000, is that what you want? So they can all go to Hockaday, they can all go to Saint Mark. You want me to give them a full tuition? That is the most selfish thing I’ve ever heard!”
The comments on the Facebook post included:
“Disturbing and infuriating. Wrong on so many levels.”
“I don’t understand the combative and disrespectful nature.”
“People complain kids don’t speak with respect or care. Well, these kids had 1,000 times more respect and decency than a state senator!”
And Texas Democratic Party Deputy Executive Director Manny Garcia wrote, “Senator Huffines, remember who you work for. Shame on you. Stop yelling at children and do your job.”
“I think he was very rude and combative,” Childress said. “Cut the students off. Got a little bit onto a rant. He raised his voice to our kids. I think he needs to apologize to our kids. And he also needs to think about what his constituents obviously want.”
Monday evening Huffines’ spokesman Matt Langston issued this response:
“While the policy was right, Senator Huffines’ tone and delivery today did not live up to the level of civil discourse that he always expects of himself and others. Senator Huffines is unapologetic in his support for education choice, because it's a policy that supports students. He will not hide from passionate or heated debate on the issue. Where other politicians might have run, Don Huffines stayed and endured the ambush-style attack, then calmly answered more questions for 15 more minutes, including questions from students.”
“The job of a Texas legislator is to guarantee a free public school system so that every child can reach their God-given potential. It is a constitutional obligation they all swore to uphold,” Manny Garcia also said in response to the video. “Nowhere in the job description of a Texas senator does it say to be disrespectful and rude to Texas students and their concerned parents who are demanding their fair shot to get ahead.”
“Instead of investing in our children and economy, Republicans have voted over and over against a stronger future for all,” said Garcia.
Childress, meanwhile, says parents, teachers, and administrators will extend an invitation to meet with Huffines again, hoping for less arguing and more listening.