AUSTIN, Texas - If nothing else, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer burnished his reputation as the Mexican-American street fighter of the Texas Democratic Party.
"Wait a minute," Martinez Fischer said last week, sporting a big grin as his prime-time speech at the Democratic State Convention reached its zenith. "GOP. That should stand for gringos y otros pendejos. Now that's a good name for their ticket."
The line was greeted with uproarious cheers and applause from the 6,000 Democrats in the Dallas Convention Center.
It was also met with almost immediate outrage from some on the political right who found the line "gringos y otros pendejos" - which loosely translates as "Anglos and other idiots" - a crude and unseemly descent into racial politics.
But a week later, Martinez Fischer said the phrase was well considered, surviving multiple drafts and review by Democratic Party officials. The words struck a responsive chord, he said.
"I have not heard from one leader in the Democratic Party who said, 'Your remarks are bad for Democrats,' " said Martinez Fischer, who represents a San Antonio district.
In the context of his speech, he said, it is "very clear my words are narrow," applying only to those who had approved a very conservative platform, with a harder line on immigration, at last month's Republican State Convention. He said he wasn't talking about the likes of House Speaker Joe Straus, the San Antonian who depends on the support of House Democrats to serve as speaker and who didn't have a speaking role at the GOP convention in Fort Worth.
But, Martinez Fischer said, it is all the better if he disturbed folks such as state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, the Tarrant County Republican who fashions himself the Martinez Fischer of the right, or Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Empower Texans, who was offended that Martinez Fischer distributed mock Mexican lottery cards at the convention, one of which bore the image of Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, as "El Diablito," or little devil.
"Lefties like Fischer are always whining about 'tone' and 'respect,' yet get a free pass from the allegedly objective media for their hypocrisy," wrote Sullivan, whose nonprofit advocacy group seeks to define and enforce conservative orthodoxy in the Legislature.
"I've always said a hit dog will holler," Martinez Fischer said. "People like Michael Quinn Sullivan will hasten the demise of the Republican Party but will also bring down Texas in the process, so it's bittersweet to me."
Stickland said, "The thing that really shocked me was that this was a prepared speech, so he really thought about it."
"I respect Trey in his political ability. In a lot of ways, I think me and him are very similar in our approach, and I respect him for being a power player," Stickland said. But, he added, "I don't ever bring race into anything."
Manny Garcia, spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, said Republicans talk about race between the lines, sounding "dog whistles" that communicate to Anglo voters their unease with Texas' growing Latino population.
Consider, he said, the "Secure our border" signs that were waved at the Republican convention when state Sen. Dan Patrick accepted the nomination for lieutenant governor - signs that bore an image of a white picket fence with a lock on it.
"They might have just as well said, 'No Mexicans allowed,' " Garcia said.
On his lottery card, Martinez Fischer is identified as "El Jefe" - the boss.
Martinez Fischer said he doesn't think "gringo" is pejorative: "What I liked about it is that it starts with the letter 'g.' "
Of "pendejo," he said: "I'm just a traditional, old-school, westside San Antonio Mexican, and 'pendejo' means somebody who's dumb."