AUSTIN, Texas — According to sources in the Texas Capitol, State Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R–Angleton) will claim this afternoon that he has the votes necessary to win election as speaker of the Texas House.
A legislator for more than two decades, Bonnen officially entered the race for speaker roughly two weeks ago following a meeting of other Republican legislators in Austin in which he was rumored to have received the most votes.
The day following that meeting one other candidate, State Rep. John Zerwas (R–Richmond), withdrew from the race and endorsed him. Since then four more candidates, State Reps. Phil King (R–Weatherford), Four Price (R–Amarillo), Tan Parker (R–Flower Mound), and even Dallas Democrat State Rep. Eric Johnson, have all withdrawn in favor of Bonnen.
On Monday morning Bonnen told Austin media that he intends to hold an afternoon news conference at the Texas Capitol in which he will discuss “the finishing of the speaker’s race.”
Sources claim Bonnen will reveal that more than two-thirds of the Texas House GOP Caucus has pledged to support him — enough to ensure that he will be the official nominee under the adopted rules of the House GOP Caucus.
If those rumors prove accurate, Bonnen’s election would be a major victory for grassroots Republicans who have strived for years for the speaker to be chosen within the Republican Caucus.
So how does Bonnen measure up to the qualifications that we laid out? As a reminder those were:
- A speaker candidate must win the support of a majority of his Republican colleagues and be the nominee of the Republican Caucus.
- A speaker candidate must have a record of supporting conservative reforms even when doing so in the past required opposition to leadership.
- A speaker candidate must make a public, on-the-record pledge to bring specific conservative reforms to the House floor for debate and a vote.
On the first issue, Bonnen appears to have satisfied it. Since entering the race, he’s campaigned for the Republican caucus’ nomination rather than attempt to cobble together enough Republicans to cut a deal with the Democrats. Unlike his two remaining Republican opponents — State Reps. Travis Clardy (R–Nacogdoches) and Drew Darby (R–San Angelo) — Bonnen did commit to supporting the GOP nominee for speaker even if it isn’t him.
In terms of a record of supporting conservative reforms, Bonnen’s record is relatively mixed. A known force within the Texas House, Bonnen has been an independent actor and has wielded his clout both for good and ill during his more than twenty years inside the Texas House. While he’s made decisions that conservatives have been (and should be) frustrated about, those decisions have been his, not Joe Straus’ or Gordon Johnson’s.
In some sessions he has performed well and earned high marks on the Fiscal Responsibility Index. In others, such as the most recent session, his legislative record left much to be desired.
As it relates to pledges to bring specific, on-the-record reforms to the floor, Bonnen hasn’t said much publicly since entering the race. But Texans should look to his presence at Gov. Greg Abbott’s press conference in January in which he unveiled his plan to cap property tax increases at 2.5% as an indication of what Bonnen is likely to claim as a priority.
A more extensive review will have to wait until after Bonnen’s press conference, but for the moment Republican activists seem to be on track for a major victory.