Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen won’t seek reelection after recording scandal

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen won’t seek reelection after recording scandal
Speaker Dennis Bonnen in the House Chamber on March 27, 2019, the day the House will take up HB1, the 2020-21 budget plan. (Source: Emree Weaver / The Texas Tribune)

By Cassandra Pollock, The Texas Tribune Oct. 22, 2019

Republican Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on Tuesday announced he will not seek reelection to the lower chamber in 2020 as calls for his resignation reached a near majority among members of his own caucus.

Bonnen, who for months was dogged by allegations that he planned to politically target sitting Republicans, offered a hardline conservative activist media access to his organization and said insulting things about Democrats in the lower chamber, said in a statement that he respected “the manner in which [House members] have handled this entire situation.”

“After much prayer, consultation, and thoughtful consideration with my family, it is clear that I can no longer seek re-election as State Representative of District 25, and subsequently, as Speaker of the House,” Bonnen, who is from Angleton, said in a statement.

Bonnen’s political future was called into question in late July, when Michael Quinn Sullivan, who heads Empower Texans, revealed the two, along with one of the speaker’s top allies, had met at the Texas Capitol the month before. At that meeting, Sullivan alleged, Bonnen and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, suggested Empower Texans go after a list of 10 House Republicans and told Sullivan his group could have media access to the lower chamber in 2021. Bonnen also disparaged multiple Democrats, calling one “vile” and another “a piece of shit.”

Last week, Sullivan’s allegations were largely confirmed when he released his secret recording of that June 12 meeting. Bonnen, in his response, said he did nothing criminally wrong — a nod to the current criminal investigation into the matter by the Texas Rangers — and insisted the 150-member “House can finally move on.”

But since then, a growing number of Republicans — and Democrats, too — have called on the speaker to resign, arguing that the damage done by Bonnen at that June meeting is beyond repair. After the House GOP Caucus met Friday and released a statement condemning both Bonnen and Burrows for their remarks, the speaker’s biggest blow politically came Monday night, when five of the chamber’s most influential Republicans announced they could no longer support Bonnen for the post.

By Tuesday morning, over 30 House Republicans had either called for the speaker’s resignation or had pulled support for the speaker.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick issued this statement:

“Weeks ago, I called for the release of the now infamous tape so that every member of the House could hear it and make their own a decision. Many Republican House members have stood up in support of new leadership for the Texas House. I stand with Governor Abbott and will work over the next 13 months to elect Republicans and ensure the GOP maintains control of the Texas House — the future of Texas depends on it.”

This developing story will be updated.

Read related Tribune coverage

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Copyright 2019 KCBD. All rights reserved.