A collage of duplicate portrait images of State Rep. Harold Dutton dressed in a suit with one arm folded and another arm raised up with his index finger pointed to his check
State Rep. Harold Dutton Credit: Artwork by Aswad Walker

Houston State Rep. Harold Dutton said he is leaving the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and he’s not holding back on why. In a fiery resignation letter, the Democratic rep said he was denied a prominent speaking opportunity at the organization’s upcoming legislative summit, despite the fact that he’s among the longest-serving state representatives.

Dutton blamed increasing tension over policy differences for his exclusion. 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 HISD by the Texas Education Agency. Most local Democrats oppose the TEA takeover. 

Dutton also suggested he was pushed aside for a speaking role at the conference in favor of an unnamed friend of Reynolds.

“Perhaps that is your way of retaliating for the policy differences between us or as reported, you are simply trying to help your friend who desires to be a state representative,” wrote Dutton. “Either way, you are engaging in stank leadership which ignores the plight of Black Texans.”

Dutton was first elected to the state House in 1984. He is the former chair of the House Education Committee and the TxLBC, but the caucus did not invite him to participate in an upcoming 50th Anniversary Legislative Summit scheduled for April 2-4.

“That is simply beyond words — most of which are not suitable for this letter,” Dutton said.

Dutton is the author of the 2015 legislation mandating action from the TEA in districts with chronically failing schools. 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 and denied any blame in the takeover. 

“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.”

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.