On Tuesday night, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen was scheduled to speak along with Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and other Republican statewide elected officials. He never delivered his remarks.
Bonnen was seen at a reception preceding the Texas Republican Party’s spring legislative dinner and in the room of several hundred GOP activists and donors prior to the event, but when his time to speak came up, he was missing.
Bonnen later complained about the event to an Austin publication, calling his placement near gun rights activist Chris McNutt “a setup.” Bonnen objected to being seated near McNutt, who had drawn harsh criticism from the speaker for block walking for gun rights in lawmakers’ home neighborhoods while they were away in Austin. The speaker responded by declaring constitutional carry legislation dead in the Texas House.
Darlene Pendery, one of the event’s key sponsors and a major donor to the Republican Party, had invited Bonnen to the event. McNutt was seated at her table, as a guest.
According to Bonnen, he walked up to McNutt, shook his hand.
“Hi, I’m Dennis Bonnen. You should never go to my residence or any member of the Legislature’s residence when you know they’re in Austin doing their job,” he said. “I want you to tell me you’re never gonna do that again.”
Collin County Republican activist Mike Openshaw was seated at an adjacent table at the dinner and wrote about the confrontation on social media after the event:
“Bonnen got right in Chris’s face & everybody close-in says Chris remained calm and gentlemanly…. [Bonnen] was so agitated that some other guy … stepped in to defend Chris. Then, apparently Bonnen had some harsh words for Darlene … and stormed out.”
Both Bonnen and Pendery confirmed that McNutt remained quiet through the ordeal and handed a letter to Bonnen that was personally addressed to him.
In a post on Facebook, McNutt and Pendery discussed the situation.
“I am grateful for Darlene’s generosity and kindness last night,” McNutt wrote. “She did not deserve to be yelled at by the Speaker either.”
“He didn’t yell at me,” Pendrey responded. “His assistant was standing beside me. She tried to keep the Speaker from causing a scene, so she urged him to come with her away from the table. He yelled at her so harshly that she backed away from him, poor woman.”
“Bonnen had his back to me yelling at his assistant. I gently put my hand on his shoulder to offer him a seat at one of our other tables. He jerked away from me, shouting that he was not going to join us. I think that’s when Dave encouraged him to leave. Bonnen stormed out of the banquet hall after promising James Dickey that he would be one of the speakers regarding legislation. He never returned and James had to scramble to find ways to fill the time gap. So you’re correct he yelled at me. He was yelling at so many of us it was hard to tell who he was singling out. I heard his irrational and violent behavior was a problem when he was Speaker pro tem, but still he was promoted to Speaker.”
Eyewitnesses of the incident were clear about two facts: Bonnen initiated contact with McNutt, who did not respond emotionally to his interaction with the speaker. Although the eyewitnesses also say Bonnen became visibly irritated, it’s unclear what spurred him to abruptly leave the event without delivering any remarks.