Presumptive speaker of the Texas House and current State Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R–Angleton) made a trip to Tyler on Monday, attending a meet-and-greet organized by State Reps. Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler) and Cole Hefner (R–Mt. Pleasant).
The venue, the Tyler Rose Garden, was packed as hundreds from around East Texas filled the room to shake hands with Bonnen and listen to him speak.
“These are exciting times for our state,” said Hefner. “We’re bringing in brand new leadership.”
“When Dennis Bonnen and I spoke about him becoming speaker of the Texas House, I said, ‘Are you going to be the kind of speaker that will come to Tyler, Texas and meet my community?’” Schaefer told the audience.
“If there’s one word I can use to describe Dennis Bonnen, it’s ‘strong,’” he added.
During his short address to the crowd, Bonnen played up his small-town roots, saying that despite hailing from Southeast Texas, “I’m not Houston by any regard. I’m the farthest thing from Houston.”
He also talked about the role he would play as an impartial speaker, ensuring each member has a voice.
“The role of the Texas speaker is to make sure that the members have a fair playing field to be heard. It doesn’t mean you win that day, but it means you were heard that day,” said Bonnen. “If you’re a member of the House, it’s not about you being heard, it’s about your constituents being heard.”
Echoing comments he previously made the day he announced he had gained the support needed to lock up the vote for speaker, Bonnen said, after talking to his colleagues in the legislature, the number one issue he would like to see the Texas House address is school finance reform.
Bonnen stopped short of providing specifics, however, saying, “This is the beauty of being speaker. I don’t have to have a plan. It’s the members that will drive that plan. It’s my job to ensure they get to a plan that we can succeed on.”
When asked by Texas Scorecard if school finance legislation would include property tax reform, Bonnen said the two were linked.
“Whether it will be within the same bill or not, I couldn’t tell you. But school finance and property tax reform and relief are all tied together,” said Bonnen, adding that both were his top priorities in the upcoming session. “You really can’t do one without the other, and the truth is Texans desperately need an improvement on their property tax situation.”
State legislators in attendance, in addition to hosts Schaefer and Hefner, included State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood) and State Reps. Chris Paddie (R–Marshall) and Travis Clardy (R–Nacogdoches), who mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the gavel earlier this year.
Several conservatives in attendance said they were encouraged by the visit but were taking a “wait and see” approach to judge Bonnen when the legislature convenes next month, saying that “talk is cheap in the Texas Capitol.”
“Bonnen should be given an opportunity to establish his own brand of leadership. Results matter,” said JoAnn Fleming, conservative activist and executive director of the Tyler-based organization Grassroots America We the People.
“We are happy to help him on the issues we can agree on.”
Conservatives — and all Texans, for that matter — don’t have to wait much longer. The Texas Legislature reconvenes on January 8.