AUSTIN (KXAN) - The Texas House Appropriations Committee had wrapped up a few hours before. Rep. Greg Bonnen , R-Friendswood, had been pouring over the education-related items of the budget, which he was helping to craft as one of the few freshman members of that panel.
"We're trying to track him down," Bonnen said, as he glanced at his watch. He and a handful of his staff members had trudged up from the lowest level and farthest corner of the Capitol's underground extension a half hour earlier for this interview.
Barely in his cramped office for two months, the newbie legislator had taken a break from his neurosurgery practice to represent a Houston-area House district just miles away from the community where he grew up. The budget keeps him so busy lately, he hasn't had time to hang things on his walls, let alone travel back home much to see his family.
"It's kind of nice to be able to see a familiar face," he said, just as his brother, Rep. Dennis Bonnen , R-Angleton, walked back into the office. Greg gave him a "where have you been?" look.
"Sorry, it's been one of those crazy days," Dennis said. His own staff had been hovering around this much bigger, more elaborate office in the main part of the Capitol all afternoon, as lawmaker after fellow lawmaker rushed in and out of meetings with their boss in 15-minute intervals all afternoon. Dennis is speaker pro tem – second in charge in the chamber.
"I'm spending more time right now with Dennis during this interview than I have in a week," Greg said, as the two sat down and allowed themselves to be wired up with a microphone. "I've seen him more on the floor than anywhere."
Siblings serving in the Texas Legislature is nothing new. Dating back to the 19th century, 39 sets of brothers and one bother-sister combo have served, either at the same time or at different times.
Sometimes, one brother has retired only to be succeeded by another. And other times they represented separate regions of the state.
For the first time in decades, the two are living under a single roof, sharing an apartment in Austin as they are away from their neighboring districts. During the interim, Dennis, a banker, still lives and works in their childhood hometown. But the Capitol City has truly been a second home for Dennis, now in his ninth term.
"Greg kind of screws it up now, but what I used to tell folks is that my oldest brother was a neurosurgeon, my second brother is a radiation oncologist, my sister is a Ph.D geneticist, and then there's me," Dennis laughed.
Dennis is six years younger than Greg, who pitched in with his baby brother's first campaign back in 1996. Now some lawmakers jokingly call them the "Bonnen Caucus."
"I wouldn't say being brothers has a major advantage," Dennis said, adding that Capitol staffesr sometime mistakenly approach the wrong Bonnen to sign onto a bill.
"If it's a good one, he'll sign on anyway," Greg snickered.
Though it's still early in the legislative session, the brothers have avoided any real disagreements. Their districts are very similar, as are their own values.
"You're here to represent your district, and you're not here to worry about anyone or anything else," said Dennis, adding that it paid off as a kid having a role model like his big brother.
Now Greg says they look up to each other.
"When we were younger and in school, we both enjoyed athletics a lot," he said. "I always thought it would be really neat for us to be on the same team, but with that age gap that never really happened."
Any rivalry now just doesn't seem to exist. Maybe it's brotherly love or perhaps just a lesson for other lawmakers in getting along.
"I would say, if we can't work it out, then it's probably hopeless," Greg said. "Sometimes you'll be on the same side of an issue, and sometimes you won't. That's OK."
Just before scooting his brother out the door and heading to his next early-evening meeting, Dennis added, "Whether you're a sibling or not, treat every member with respect – for their beliefs, for their issues and their districts' concerns."
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