When the Texas Legislature convenes for its next session in 2021, it will have a new speaker. Tuesday morning, the current speaker, Angleton Republican Dennis Bonnen, announced that, after two decades in the House and one term as speaker, he would not seek reelection.
"It is with the deepest love, respect and honor for my family, House District 25, the Texas Legislature and the State of Texas that I have announced I will not seek reelection," Bonnen said in a statement. "Aside from the blessings of my wife and two sons, there has been no greater or more rewarding accomplishment in my life than serving all of you. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all of you for putting your trust in me for the past 23 years. I am looking forward to the many new adventures God has in store for me and my family as we embark on a new chapter."
Bonnen's resignation stems from a sideshow, not his legislative performance. The speaker's leadership in the House drew praise from all sides following the 2019 session, which saw the state make significant strides on school finance and property tax reform, while avoiding many of the issues that have bogged down the body in the past.
The speaker's position began to erode over the summer, however, when Michael Q. Sullivan, an uber-conservative gadfly and rainmaker, claimed he had a tape of Bonnen offering him House press credentials in exchange for targeting specific Republican members of the House during Texas 2020 primary.
After months of speculation, Sullivan released the recording last week. Its contents backed up much of what the activist said, and a steady stream of both Republican and Democratic House members, including multiple key committee chairs, have called on Bonnen to step down from his role as speaker.
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“This is a victory for transparency and accountability. Texans are tired of politicians, like Republican Speaker Bonnen, who use backroom deals, cover-ups and outright lies to pursue power over everything," said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. "Now more than ever, it is clear that only the election of Texas Democrats will return ethics and good governance to our great state.”
Sullivan heckled Bonnen on Twitter for bringing about his own demise.
Sad day for Texas. A good day for Texas. @RepDennisBonnen could have behaved ethical. He could have recanted privately. He instead chose lies, deceit, dishonor, and ruin. He has gone from 3rd constitutional officer in Texas to a cautionary tale. #TxLege https://t.co/dIVjVx5c0e— Michael Quinn Sullivan (@MQSullivan) October 22, 2019
The House cannot officially elect a new speaker until it is back in session, but jockeying for the role, the third most powerful in state government, will begin immediately.