I have mixed feelings about this.
The representative and aspiring preacher hadn’t planned to deliver a sermon when he went to work at the state capitol that morning.
Sitting in a drab committee room last month, Texas Rep. James Talarico, among the youngest members of the statehouse now at 34, was slowly getting fed up as he sat through a hearing for a bill that would mandate putting the Ten Commandments in every public school classroom in the state. A week prior, he’d sat through a committee hearing on a bill that would allow chaplains to replace guidance counselors. He was already dreading another floor debate scheduled for later in the day for a bill denying gender-affirming health care. So by the time the Ten Commandments came up that morning, Talarico had had it.
He looked squarely at the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Candy Noble, whom he acknowledged as a fellow “devout Christian,” before letting loose a two-minute and nine-second exchange that would go viral on TikTok and Twitter, racking up more than 1 million views on Twitter alone.
“This bill to me is not only unconstitutional, it’s not only un-American, I think it is also deeply un-Christian,” he told her, as she stood motionless. “And I say that because I believe this bill is idolatrous. I believe it is exclusionary. And I believe that it is arrogant, and those three things, in my reading of the Gospel, are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus.” He cited Matthew 6:5, in which Jesus urges his disciples to not pray publicly like the hypocrites.
Six days later, he went viral again for calling out Texas lawmakers after a mass shooting in Allen, Texas, that left eight dead. “There is something profoundly cynical about asking God to solve a problem that we’re not willing to solve ourselves,” he said on the house floor.
David Axelrod, the veteran Democratic strategist, praised Talarico on Twitter. “WATCH THIS:” California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted. “Preach,” former Education Secretary Arne Duncan cheered. After both videos went viral, he received 12,000 calls and emails in a week’s time, a volume that would typically be closer to 300.
“The thing that warms my heart the most,” he told me, “is people who say, ‘I’m an atheist, agnostic, or I left the church or I left religion. But this is the kind of Christianity I can believe in.’”
Talarico had served as the executive director of student government at the University of Texas and then got his master’s in education policy from Harvard but came home to Texas soon after. He taught middle school on the west side of San Antonio — he had family there, and it was the closest place he could find a teaching gig. He eventually moved back to Austin as an educational consultant. In the 2018 midterms, at just 29, he flipped his suburban Austin, Trump-leaning district blue, winning it by 2 points, one of only a handful of Texas Democrats to do so that year.
What’s the frenetic pace of legislation all add up to? “I am looking forward to running statewide,” Talarico said. In another conversation, he told me that “Ted Cruz would be fun to debate.” Talarico and his advisers have discussed possibly challenging Cruz next year or Gov. Greg Abbott in 2026. But those close to him say he’s leaning toward a bid against the governor, especially now that Rep. Colin Allred has entered the race against Cruz. Talarico is expected to launch a statewide political action committee, Big and Bright PAC, later this year.
First, just to get this off my chest, Talarico was one of 12 Democrats to flip State House seats in 2018, along with two Congressional candidates, two State Senate candidates, a multitude of Appellate Court candidates, and of course a bunch of county-level candidates in Harris, Fort Bend, Williamson, and elsewhere. I have no idea where that “one of only a handful of Texas Democrats to do so that year” crap came from, but Jesus H. Ross Perot Christ. This is why stories about Texas politics written by people who don’t know anything about Texas make me grind my teeth.
Second, the story mentions that Talarico was one of the 51 quorum-busters in 2021, who fled to Washington to prevent the Legislature from passing its omnibus voter suppression bill and tried to persuade Congressional and Senate Dems to pass an updated Voting Rights Act. It does not mention that Talarico was also one of the Dems who came back ahead of the others, thus helping to re-establish a quorum so that bill could eventually get passed. That led to some hard feelings that may or may not have abated by now. Talarico’s been a good State Rep – I do like the guy – and I’m sure he’s worked to smooth those feelings over, but you have to mention the rest of the story here. Hell, talk to someone whose feathers had been ruffled in the first place and see how they feel about him now. I guarantee you, plenty of folks will give anonymous quotes if you let them.
Again, I’m not trying to knock Talarico here. I’m glad to see him get some attention like this, and I’m glad to see him thinking in terms of running statewide. But let’s face it, the streets are littered with attractive and charismatic Democratic up-and-comers who got national profiles and praise from the likes of David Axelrod. I firmly believe things will change and I will do my part for it. It’s just that glowing profiles haven’t done much for us so far. Maybe this is the political equivalent of the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx, I don’t know. I just know that I’m conditioned to cringe a little when I see this stuff now.
Finally, I note that Talarico’s statewide ambitions have been noted before, all focusing on Senate 2024, with a bit of skepticism on my part. As we have now heard the words from the man’s mouth, we can now move this from the realm of pure speculation to confirmed interest. I think he’s right to look ahead to 2026 – as far as I know, he’s the first Dem out there talking about running for Governor – and he’s right to start raising money for it now. I may – lovingly – mock these national profile pieces, but they do serve the purpose of giving a new PAC a kick start, and as a State Rep you really need that to level up. I’ll look forward to his future finance reports.