AUSTIN (KXAN) — A young, fiery, leader just became one of the most powerful people in state government. The Texas House chose a new Speaker: Angleton Republican Dennis Bonnen.
After bruising 2017 regular and special legislative sessions, many House members told KXAN they were frustrated the Texas Senate — led by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick — dictated terms of state policy. They now have as their leader someone who many believe to be the toughest negotiator in the House.
“I think it’s accurate that I’m tough. I’m passionate. I love the Texas House. It’s the finest legislative institution in the world in my opinion,” Speaker Bonnen told KXAN in an interview. “I will be a strong advocate for the House and I always have been.”
Dennis Bonnen has spent half his life as a representative in the Texas House, first winning office in his mid-20s.
Speaker Bonnen will join Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick as the three most powerful and influential elected officials in the state of Texas.
The race for Speaker began as a crowded field of eight but House members coalesced around Bonnen quickly once he was in the race. In late October, around 40 House Republicans met to draft Bonnen, looking for unity in Republican ranks as Democrats were poised for a big election year. Afterward, Bonnen received the support of two influential leaders who were also running for Speaker: Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, R – Richmond, and Public Health Chairman Four Price, R- Amarillo. Bonnen says once Price supported him, the race was over.
Several days after the November election, Bonnen held a press conference announcing he had more than 100 out of the 150 members backing him, ending the race.
Democratic lawmakers tell KXAN they supported Bonnen because he promised revamping the state’s tattered school finance system would be his number one priority.
Bonnen follows former Speaker Joe Straus, R- San Antonio, who chose not to run for re-election.
A calmer, more bipartisan start
The 2017 legislative session started with a boom. This year, it’s calmer.
Two years ago a standoff between the House and the Senate over property tax caps and bathroom regulations almost halted parts of Texas government. It took a special session to seamlessly govern the state.
The November election and the selection of Speaker Bonnen helped spur on the calm.
Straus chose not to run for re-election after the bruising battle with Lt. Governor Patrick over who could use what bathrooms. Bonnen was a key lieutenant for Straus but the two men are different.
“He’s a very calmer, quiet leader. I have Greek blood in me and my mother gives me great passion,” Bonnen said.
The difference in style is also a difference in the chambers. The Senate has 31 districts with 800,000 people each, making them more in touch with statewide and national politics.
The House, on the other hand, has 150 smaller districts with 160,000 people each. There, large local businesses, city governments and school districts have more sway.
Changing the outdated way Texas pays for schools is the number one priority for Bonnen and he imprinted that message on to the House Styrofoam cups the member use everyday – writing on them “School Finance Reform. The Time is Now.”
“We show up here to get solutions. We don’t show up here to game each other out for the next election cycle,” Speaker Bonnen said. “We better go to work. We better respect each other and we better solve the problem or we might not come back.”