Facing a growing contingent of lawmakers calling for his resignation, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election in 2020, ending his 22-year career in the Texas House and his single term as speaker of the lower chamber.
The decision comes on the heels of the release of a recording of a June meeting at the Capitol held between Bonnen (R-Angleton), Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan, and Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock). During the meeting, Bonnen offered Sullivan House press credentials in return for Sullivan targeting certain Republican House members in the 2020 primary elections. Bonnen also received criticism for making derogatory comments toward a number of House Democrats.
|House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (left) and former House Speaker Joe Straus.
"After much prayer, consultation, and thoughtful consideration with my family, it is clear that I can no longer seek re-election as state representative of district 25, and subsequently, as speaker of the house," Bonnen said Tuesday in a prepared statement.
The tape was released by Sullivan last week, and by Monday the number of House Republicans calling for Bonnen to step down as speaker had grown to more than two dozen legislators.
In a tweet on Tuesday,
Sad day for Texas. A good day for Texas. [Rep. Bonnen]
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."
Meanwhile, Burrows has stood by the speaker: "His leadership is responsible for great achievements for taxpayers, public education and he has been great ally for Texas Tech and West Texas. I am proud to call him my friend," Burrows stated to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Bonnen plans to remain in his post as speaker until January, 2021, when the House will elect their next leader. However, until then, it isn't exactly clear how the office will be run in the interim. Typically, the speaker's office carries out several critical functions during the 18-month gap between legislative sessions.
Those tasks include directing legislative committee work, issuing studies on future legislation, a
nd campaigning for the re-election of House colleagues. However, many of the leaders of House committees are the same lawmakers who have just called for Bonnen to resign, including Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford), who is spending the interim working on redistricting.
"In reality, the House kind of runs itself in the interim,"
. "We've got a longstanding system in place, and everyone knows what needs to be done."
Speaker Bonnen would also typically be working with the governor and lieutenant governor on statewide initiatives, campaigning, and budgeting for the upcoming legislative session. The rift in House leadership could have serious political implications for 2020, as Democrats need just nine additional seats in the House to gain a majority.
In the meantime, the two other members of th
e state's "Big Three" - Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick - have clearly parted ways with the outgoing House speaker.
"Looking ahead to 2020, the Republican Party of Texas must unite and work together to retain a majority in the Texas House,"
. "I am redoubling my efforts to ensure we achieve that goal. All Republican House members have a list of accolades that makes them worthy of reelection, and I will work with each of them to tell that story to voters in their district."
Lt. Gov. Patrick added: "Many Republican House members have stood up in support of new leadership for the Texas House. I stand with Governor Abbott and will work over the next 13 months to elect Republicans and ensure the GOP maintains control of the Texas House - the future of Texas depends on it."
While the Texas House waits for a new candidate for speaker to emerge, the Texas Rangers have completed their investigation into potential criminal wrongdoing committed during the June meeting at the Capitol. The Rangers have
turned over their report to Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne, who on Thursday announced Bonnen will not face criminal prosecution.
Yenne said in a statement: "As repugnant as Speaker Bonnen's actions and statements are I do not believe there is sufficient evidence from the June 12, 2019 meeting to warrant a criminal prosecution of Speaker Bonnen for Bribery or Solicitation of a Gift by a Public Servant, therefore no criminal charges will be brought."
We will continue to send updates on any developments in this ongoing story.