If you had told any observer of the Texas Legislature a year ago that Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s district would be facing an open-seat election in 2020, you likely would have been laughed out of the Capitol. After all, Bonnen—who had served in the Texas Legislature since 1997—had just taken the gavel as the newly elected Speaker of the Texas House, after the departure of Joe Straus.

And he had done it unanimously.

Republican and Democrat lawmakers alike seemed to be equally elated with Bonnen’s performance, but the grassroots’ frustration grew as the state’s budget was busted and Republican priorities died at the hands of the state legislature.

Then Bonnen drew an early primary challenger in Rhonda Seth.

Seth, an emergency room nurse and Lake Jackson resident, made her announcement for House District 25—which encompasses southern Brazoria County and the entirety of Matagorda County—just days after the end of the legislative session, saying at the time, “Perhaps Mr. Bonnen has spent too much time in Austin and … it’s time to let him come home and reacquaint himself with those who live here.”

But with little money and going up against the current Speaker of the House, the road was set to be a difficult one, to say the least, and the powers of the Austin establishment would surely line up to protect Bonnen and his seat.

Just a couple of weeks later, though, a meeting took place that would completely change the trajectory of the election.

On June 12, 2019, Bonnen invited Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan to a private meeting in which he made a quid pro quo offer of media credentials in exchange for the political targeting of certain Republican members.

After months of denying the substance of the meeting, and after the Texas Rangers opened an investigation into the matter, an audio recording of the meeting was released, and Bonnen was forced to announce he would not seek re-election in October.

And just as quickly as the seat became open, candidates came out of the woodwork to put their names on the ballot and have a chance at being the next state representative.

Soon, four additional candidates filed for the position.

Brazoria County Tax Assessor-Collector Ro’Vinn Garrett’s campaign has, unsurprisingly, drawn the endorsements of several Brazoria County officials, including the county judge and sheriff.

Former Freeport Mayor and Brazosport ISD Trustee Troy Brimage is funded primarily by Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Some sources in the district have suggested Brimage is Bonnen’s preferred successor.

Mitch Thames, the president of the Bay City Chamber of Commerce, has the least cash of any of the campaigns. He is also notably the only candidate with a “moderate” designation on iVoterGuide.

The final candidate, Cody Vasut, currently serves as a member of the Angleton City Council. Vasut has centered his campaign around votes in favor of property tax reform while serving on the council, including being the lone vote to oppose the 2017 property tax rate after the council declined to decrease the rate.

Meanwhile, Rhonda Seth has raised the most money, according to campaign finance reports, and has earned a swath of conservative endorsements, including Texas Right to Life, Texas Gun Rights, Gun Owners of America, and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Because the race is between five candidates, it will likely go to a runoff. Early voting is ongoing, and Election Day is March 3.

Texans for Fiscal Responsibility has not issued an endorsement in this race.

Brandon Waltens

Brandon serves as the Senior Editor for Texas Scorecard. After managing successful campaigns for top conservative legislators and serving as a Chief of Staff in the Texas Capitol, Brandon moved outside the dome in order to shine a spotlight on conservative victories and establishment corruption in Austin. @bwaltens


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