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Fight to Become Next Speaker of the Texas House Ends in First-Round Knockout

Barring something completely unforeseen between now and January, Dennis Bonnen, a long-serving Republican from the Houston area, is going to be the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

"We're here to let you know that the speaker's race is over," Bonnen said at a press conference in Austin on Monday afternoon. "The Texas House is ready to go to work."

One hundred nine members of the 175-member House have committed to vote for Bonnen when the next session of the Legislature convenes in January, according to a list released Monday. Among those who've committed voting for the presumptive speaker is Dallas Democratic state Rep. Eric Johnson, who was running for speaker himself before withdrawing Monday.

"I have decided to support Representative Dennis Bonnen in his effort to become the next Speaker of the Texas House, and I look forward to quickly transitioning from campaigning for Speaker to the business of representing District 100 in the upcoming legislative session,” Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson is one of about 30 Democrats to commit to supporting Bonnen.

During a conversation with the Observer last week, Rice University political science professor Mark Jones identified Bonnen as a potential compromise candidate for speaker. While Bonnen is more conservative than previous House speaker Joe Straus, he is someone House moderates know they can work with, Jones said.

Straus issued a statement supporting Bonnen's candidacy Monday.

"Having worked closely with Dennis Bonnen in his roles as speaker pro tempore and one of our top committee chairs, I have confidence in his leadership, intelligence and commitment to the Texas House," Straus said. "He has been a leader in the House for a long time and certainly understands the Speaker's role and responsibilities. I trust that, under Dennis' leadership, the Texas House will continue to be a place where members work together and put the best interests of Texans first."

Bonnen was first elected to the House in 1997. At 24, he was the Legislature's youngest member. As chairman of the House Committee on Environmental Regulation, he was criticized for being friendly to corporate polluters in his district, but he eventually moved on to become an important member of Straus' leadership team, frequently staring down Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on issues like border security and property taxes.

Bonnen signaled that he will preside, as Straus did, over a House that stands up for itself.

"All 149 other members are going to be a part of this House," Bonnen said. "Whether their name is on this list is unimportant. We're going to be the House. When the House stands together, it does great things. This Texas House is going to do great things. We stand ready to work with the governor and, of course, we want to work with our friends and partners in the Senate and the lieutenant governor." 

Bonnen identified school finance reform as a priority. That's an issue Jones said was ripe for compromise between House Republicans and Democrats.

"The No. 1 priority will be decided by the members, but having talked to numerous members, I can guarantee you that priority is school finance," Bonnen said. "It is time Texas took on the challenge of fixing our broken school finance system. The Texas House will be leading with all of us to get that done."

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