In a fiery resignation letter, Democrat State Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston announced he is leaving the Texas Legislative Black Caucus after learning he was denied a prominent speaking opportunity at the organization’s upcoming legislative summit.
In his letter addressed to caucus chairman, State Rep. Ron Reynolds (D–Houston), Dutton accused Reynolds of retaliating against him for supporting the takeover of Houston Independent School District by the Texas Education Agency, which most local Democrats oppose. He also suggests he was pushed aside for a speaking role at the conference in favor of an unnamed friend of Reynolds who wants to be a state representative.
The previous chair of the House Public Education Committee, Dutton was particularly incensed that he was not selected to participate in a panel on public education.
“That is simply beyond words—most of which are not suitable for this letter,” Dutton said.
In 2015, Dutton authored the legislation that lets the state appoint a board of managers for a school district if one of its schools receives a failing grade for five consecutive years. At the time, the NAACP and the American Federation for Teachers supported the measure, thinking it would incentivize school districts to address serious problems to avoid a state takeover.
In 2019, the TEA initiated this process for HISD after Phillis Wheatley High School received a failing grade from the agency for seven consecutive years. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath was blocked from appointing a board of managers until this month, though, when the elected school board and a group of teachers dropped a lawsuit claiming the takeover was unjustified after it was dismissed by the Texas Supreme Court.
Dutton is a graduate of Wheatley High School, which is in his northeast Houston district. He has defended Morath’s actions.
When asked by a local newspaper if he felt responsible for what is happening to HISD, Dutton replied, “That’s like saying the guy who comes with the ambulance to pick up the guy who is shot is somehow responsible. It’s HISD’s responsibility to educate students and when they let them fail, they should be punished.”
Reynolds and other Houston Democrats, however, have denounced the takeover as an attempt to impose a political agenda they say would harm the district’s students, who are predominantly black and Hispanic. U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D–Houston) and a coalition of local civil rights groups have even appealed to the federal government to intervene in the situation.
“You are engaging in stank leadership which ignores the plight of Black Texans. You should be ashamed,” Dutton told Reynolds in his letter.
Dutton also accused Reynolds of being ungrateful for publicly defending him when he was charged and convicted for barratry. After an unsuccessful appeal, Reynolds served about four months in a Montgomery County jail in 2018, during which time his constituents re-elected him to another term.
“As I was writing this,” Dutton continued, “it came back to me that when you faced criminal troubles, I was the only person that came to your rescue. No good deed goes unpunished.”
Dutton conceded that Reynolds could “do whatever” as chairman of the caucus, but “I don’t have to take it,” he stated. “And I won’t.”
Dutton is the chair of the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee, one of nine Democrats appointed to chair a committee in the Republican-controlled Texas House. Texas Scorecard profiled Dutton following his appointment earlier this year.