Chair of GOP Hispanic Group Explains Change of Heart on Mayoral Candidate Edward Okpa

Jason_Villalba_stock2.jpg
Courtesy Haynes and Boone, LLP
Jason Villalba, chair of the Dallas Chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly
In case you haven't seen the updates to Friday's item about tomorrow's mayoral debate at Thomas Jefferson High School, Dallas Chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly chair Jason Villalba late Friday sent out an apology for excluding Edward Okpa from the forum and said Okpa had been extended an invitation. Reached yesterday, Villalba tells Unfair Park he's "surprised by the outcry" expressed in several phone calls and "unfriendly" emails to him from RNHA members and others advocating for the inclusion of Okpa, the minority candidate.

As we reported Friday, one of those calls came from mayoral candidate David Kunkle, who told us Villalba would contact the other two candidates -- Ron Natinsky and Mike Rawlings -- before making a decision. Villalba says he wanted to ensure that the other candidates were comfortable with losing some of their time to speak. He failed to reach Rawlings through his campaign but reached Natinsky.

"He said, 'Absolutely. We want to be inclusive of everyone,'" Villalba says.

Villalba, who's a securities and corporate lawyer and partner at the Richardson office of Haynes and Boone, says he didn't wait to hear back from Rawlings to ask Opka to attend because it quickly became "a no-brainer" to do so.

"Did I make the right call to exclude Mr. Okpa when he's a filed candidate? No," he says. "Obviously, that was a mistake, and I apologize for that. But the Observer had wrote a couple years back about his viability to be a candidate and that he just hasn't fared so well."

Okpa received just 1,999 votes in 2003 and 429 votes four years later in his first two attempts to become mayor.

Villalba also notes Okpa hasn't appeared in The Dallas Morning News "until recently" and claims his initial decision was based on "time constraints," reiterating what he had told us Friday. In his letter Friday night, Villalba took issue with our report that the event was scheduled for three hours (from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.), but he acknowledges the press release he sent included those times. He claims that was an error, telling us the event is from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a potential meet-and-greet with the candidates afterward.

Villalba says he didn't intend for the issue to become controversial and stresses his group is a private, partisan political organization comprised of Republican Hispanics and Republicans who believe outreach to Hispanics is important.

"Mr. Okpa is a Republican, so by excluding him, we weren't meaning to be offensive or slight anyone," he says.

The mayor's race is nonpartisan.

Villalba elaborated on the inclusion of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Leppert and DISD Trustee Dr. Edwin Flores as speakers prior to the debate. He says Flores, who graduated from TJ, assisted in securing the space at the school for the RNHA, so he felt it was appropriate for Flores to introduce the mayoral candidates. And it was important to have Leppert there based on his three-and-a-half-year tenure as Dallas mayor.

"He served what most people would say in a fashion that showed leadership, and he's done some great things for the city of Dallas," he says. "I'm a big supporter of Tom Leppert the mayor."

Although Villabla doesn't expect Leppert to discuss his Senate candidacy, he says it shouldn't be a surprise if he does.

"We're a Republican organization," he says. "We're going to have a forum for any candidate for Senate that's a Republican."

Villalba wrote an open letter last year to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, which was published as an op-ed in The News, chastising Reid for saying he didn't know "how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican." So don't be surprised to hear a question Monday night aimed at Rawlings, who donated to Reid's campaign.

Okpa, who Villalba says has RSVP'ed to the forum on Facebook, responded to a phone call from Unfair Park by text message, saying he was in an airplane headed to Dallas and would call back after he lands.

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26 comments
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Kevin
Kevin

The debate Monday was very well organized and informative. All four candidates had ample opportunity to present their positions on very important issues. I believe there is an error in reporting that Edwin Flores graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School, attributed to comments from Dallas RHNA Chair Villalba. I understand from his resume and introductory remarks that he came to Texas from Mexico to attend UT. However his DISD Board District includes TJ. Actually Dallas Councilman Natinsky commented that he attended TJ Freshman year and graduated from Hillcrest. I applaud the organizational efforts and civility of all concerned. I am very heartened that we have at least four intelligent, articulate, decent citizens interested in the leadership demands of this city. I hope the mayoral race remains on the "high road" and more people are inspired to participate in their civic responsibilities to find solutions for problems and meet the needs of the future.

Jeff W
Jeff W

It's amazing how people will find the smallest pretexts to express anger. This is such an insignificant issue. I'm sure Mr. Okpa's a fine man but he has almost zero chance of being a factor in this election. I can understand the logic behind not inviting him.

They listened to the outcry and extended an invitation.

Was it really something worth the vindictiveness expressed here in the comments?

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

I like this because of the classic example of,

"You are the ones with the problem How dare you get upset?"

Plain and simple this was a Stupid Political Blunder.

Montemalone
Montemalone

The logic is that if he's not allowed to participate in the process, he has zero chance of being elected. In what may be a real competition, with 3 white guys all wanting the job, a few thousand votes here or there could decide it.

Tea Party Gal
Tea Party Gal

I would like to know what RNHA's position is on Amnesty, The DreamACT is. They seem to be very silent on these issues.

Snookie Pie
Snookie Pie

Do you honestly believe this RNHA group has positions or operates in a real organization mode as you imply.

I suspect they are power group for lending endorsements ...or , should I say "SELLING" endorsements to candidates. See, if this group endorses Villalba's buddy-boy, Leppert, then Leppert gets to tout that he has the Dallas republican hispanics endorsement...which of course, he thinks can parlay into other hispanic clubs' endorsements throughout the state....

So, don't confuse this group with a real club with real values and with platforms and positions. They're just a club shingle that offers their "good housekeeping seal of approval" stamp to the highest bidder.

Hasanmary
Hasanmary

I wonder if the black republicans would have invited him or have the arrived too.

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yeahIsaidthat
yeahIsaidthat

That guy just looks like he has Leppert written all over him. Either it's the pin stripe suit or the snarky smirky smile on his face.

Montemalone
Montemalone

The suit and the snark are standard issue lawyer uniforms.

Tea Party Gal
Tea Party Gal

Edward Okpa should NEVER have been excluded. I became so upset after hearing this I phoned the Texas GOP to offer my opinion. As a Tea Party patriot I support "ALL" candidates having a say.. The arrogant "elites" in the Republican Party need to stop making decisions for the rest of us, we deserve a voice, we deserve to be heard on these matters.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Good for you for calling the GOP!And good for Unfair Park for making this known.

It just smacks of racism.As someone born way after Jim Crow and Civil Rights, I haven't seen too much actual racism.

I was at a DISD board meeting once around the time of the LAST financial meltdown (Edwin was on that board at that time, too) and it appeared that a lot of non-English-speaking HIspanics had been brought in to cheer for HInojosa.

Gee, I wonder whose idea that was.

I understand enough Spanish and it was clear that the Hispanics around me had no idea what was going on or why they were there based on the questions they were asking each other and the "leader".

They were there mainly to make it look like they were voters.One of their "leaders" who did speak English yelled at a group of Black audience members that "Now WE are the majority and WE have the votes."

It was very unAmerican and many LULAC people don't seem to get that.

Guest
Guest

Hmmmm. I think he invited him because he got caught in his wanna be white, racist action. The "no brainer" would've been to not have excluded anyone in the first place.

Snookie Pie
Snookie Pie

"Villalba also notes Okpa hasn't appeared in The Dallas Morning News "until recently" and.."

The DMNews! Is that his defense?He's a lawyer for god's sake, albiet not a very good one.I'm guess Haynes & Boone has lowered their standards for partners. A lot.

Gary
Gary

"But the Observer had wrote a couple years back about his viability to be a candidate and that he just hasn't fared so well."

Had WROTE? Excuse me? Is correct grammar from a public person too much to ask?

Crwatchgroup
Crwatchgroup

If at first you don't succeed--

just keep lying.

Joanne R
Joanne R

Nothing this Republican Hispanic group leader, lawyer, says will convince me that he did not mean to exclude Okpa

He can dance and dance and cover up all he wants.

We have current mayor, Caraway, who himself ran a few times before being elected to City Council and now he is mayor.

So, Villalba's excuses keep getting thinner and thinner. He has a problem with the truth. Maybe he knows Arthur and Archie, or maybe he had his apron on too tight.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

I agree with your post and want to add that Villalba didn't act alone.

Villalba, Leppert, Flores, the legal "movers and shakers" involved in politics--they're all of a kind.They support one to get the support of the other to personally benefit themselves at the expense of taxpayers.

No matter how badly things decline in Dallas--the parks, the pools, the libraries, the SCHOOLS, downtown, the number of businesses coming or staying in Dallas--these same people either don't get it or don't care that their trite "solutions" don't work.

They cram more of the same down the thoats of Dallas (bridges! overpriced museums! hotels!) and try to arrange elections so they can keep doing what doesn't work.

I will vote for either Kunkle or Okpa. They can't be worse than Leppert and at least they won't be part of the Leppert/Flores/Villalba crowd.

Montemalone
Montemalone

"these same people either don't get it or don't care that their trite "solutions" don't work."

You are mistaken. They do work. For them.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Villalba says he didn't intend for the issue to become controversial and stresses his group is a private, partisan political organization comprised of Republican Hispanics and Republicans who believe outreach to Hispanics is important.

"Mr. Okpa is a Republican, so by excluding him, we weren't meaning to be offensive or slight anyone," he says.

But he did .In a most public way.

Mr Villalba words to the unwise ? (1) The best way to prove a person shouldn't be considered For a public office is to allow them to come to a forum and let them remove all doubts themselves.(2) Welcome to your seat at the table . Just remember you wouldn't be there if others still had their way and were still able to Keep you out . (3)This goof up happened because of the misuse of the little power you were granted . You might think you are a player in politics . But this is a Preschooler One of these guys is not like the others mistake. Excluding the guy should have never been on the table.(4) I suspect that you were picked as to serve as the example of what happens when someone thinks they have all the answers.Won't listen to the guidance of the people that do.(5) Oddly enough and related to the topic instead of excluding you and getting the Hispanics as a whole pissed The GOP power structure allowed you in And look what happened . Opps on you huh ?

(6) Enjoy the time in the Limelight Mr Villalba in you case it will be short lived.

Maybe Daniel Tosh can give you a web redemption ?

Doitrite
Doitrite

Good job, Chief Kunkle for getting Villalba to do the right thing!

Guest
Guest

Kunkle saw an opportunity to get free media and make himself look like he really cared about Okpa being there...

Guest
Guest

No. Think hard. It really wasn't Kunkle's actions that got this turned around. It was the media and the members up Villalba's behind. The invitation and information that has been promoted for weeks now has stated that only THREE of the candidates would be highlighted so they ALL knew Okpa was excluded. They just didn't care until the media brought it to light.

Call me, Surely
Call me, Surely

ah Ha!! I thought the same thing. Kunkle is using this as publicity stunt.Shrewd, yes. Sincere, no.

When I go to vote, will there be a "None of the Above" choice?

Bettyculbreath
Bettyculbreath

Kunkle is not using this,when It came to his attention,he did what most of us would have done.He learn about it same way we did.

Anon
Anon

Because Edwin Flores is involved in this, I am not surprised that this has become a public embarrassment.

DISD knows all about how Edwin Flores operates.

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