Tag Archives: Joe Straus

Speaker lost the trust of the entire legislative chamber

When you ascend to the role of speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, you preside over a body of disparate political views. Republicans and Democrats seek to work together — most of the time — for the common good. They need a speaker they can trust to say and do the right thing at all times, in public and in private.

Dennis Bonnen for now is the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. He won’t be for long. He announced today he won’t seek re-election in 2020 to his House seat. Why? Because he lost the trust of the entire body over which he presided for a single term.

How did he lose that trust? By talking in nasty terms about some of his Republican colleagues in a surreptitious meeting with a right-wing zealot after expressing confidence in them publicly.

The zealot, Empower Texans boss Michael Quinn Sullivan, recorded the meeting. He released the recording the other day, revealing Bonnen to be underhanded, duplicitous and treacherous. Bonnen gave Sullivan the names of 10 GOP legislators that Sullivan’s right-wing organization could target in the next election.

About 30 GOP legislators called for Bonnen’s resignation. He delivered the next best thing: an announcement he wouldn’t seek re-election.

Bonnen needed the trust of his Republican colleagues to be an effective speaker of the House. His Democratic colleagues have remained largely silent since details of this scandal surfaced. Why should they say a word when the GOP speaker was setting himself on fire?

Trust is a requirement for effective legislative leadership. Previous speakers of both parties had it. Republicans Joe Straus and Tom Craddick had it; so did Democrats Pete Laney and Gib Lewis. They managed to run the House effectively while working with governors and lieutenant governors of opposing parties. Of the men I mentioned, I happen to know Pete Laney, a man who operated on the notion that he would “let the will of the House” determine how legislation gets enacted.

Trust is essential. Bonnen had it when his House colleagues elected him speaker. He lost it when he conspired with the Empower Texans zealot to cut the throats of his colleagues.

He had to go. I wish there was a way for the Legislature to accept his resignation now while it is in recess. The Texas Constitution doesn’t allow that. Fine. Bonnen now just needs to do as little as possible for the time he has left as speaker of the House.

Just stay out of the way, Mr. Speaker, and leave the heavy lifting to the committee chairs who I am going to presume still have their colleagues’ trust.

You are untrustworthy.

Texas House tumult claims a victim

The tumult surrounding Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s recorded conversation with a right-wing rabble rouser has claimed its first victim.

Texas House Republican Caucus Chairman Lance Burrows of Lubbock has resigned his leadership post. He was allegedly caught taking part in some secret conversations involving Burrows and Empower Texans guru Michael Quinn Sullivan, who reportedly were targeting some House Republicans for defeat in the next election cycle.

What’s more, the Texas Rangers are now involved, investigating whether there might be some campaign law violations associated with this apparently growing mess.

Bonnen at first denied taking part in the conversation with Sullivan, with whom he has had a testy relationship. He has since apologized to his fellow legislative Republicans for the things he said about them. Bonnen wants Sullivan to release the entire conversation, apparently thinking its full context might explain what the men were discussing. Good luck with that, Mr. Speaker.

I am glad the Rangers are involved. We need to find out what happened, who said what to whom and what precisely this clown, Sullivan, was intending to do with the information being pledged to him by Bonnen … allegedly.

I had some hopes that the new speaker would continue the kind of leadership demonstrated by Joe Straus of San Antonio, who left the Legislature at the end of 2018. Silly me. It appears my hopes have been dashed, if what we hear turns out to be correct.

The idea that the speaker, reportedly a moderate-to-conservative politician would hold hands with a far-right ideologue such as Sullivan, for whom many mainstream Texas Republicans have considerable loathing, is repugnant on its face.

Bonnen’s role in this once-secret conversation has angered a lot of GOP House members. To which I say: Perhaps a change in the House speakership well might be in order.

If anyone is interested in some names to replace Bonnen, I can think of a couple of fellows from up yonder in the Panhandle who I believe would work out just fine.

Four Price or John Smithee, are you available?

Speaker Bonnen, you might have blown it royally!

I was willing to give Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen the benefit of the doubt when he sought the office after Joe Straus left the Legislature at the beginning of the year.

Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, was thought by many to be a politician who is able to work with pols from both sides of the aisle in Austin.

But now … it turns out he might have double-crossed members of his own GOP caucus, if we are to believe ultra right-winger Michael Quinn Sullivan, the godfather of Empower Texans, the political action committee he founded. Sullivan reportedly has revealed that Bonnen agreed to offer Empower Texans the names of 10 GOP lawmakers the right wingers could target in the 2020 election.

Would Speaker Straus have done such a thing? Or Speaker Tom Craddick? Or Speaker Pete Laney? Or Speaker Gib Lewis?

I doubt it strongly! Yet we now have evidence, apparently, of collusion (there’s that word again) between Speaker Bonnen and a right-wing outfit that has sought to yank the Legislature even farther to the right than it already stands.

Betrayal anyone?

This is a disgraceful betrayal if it turns out to be true. There’s something credible-sounding about what has been revealed so far.

Sullivan has talked about a meeting he had with Bonnen in which the speaker made the offer to hand over the names of legislators that would show up on Empower Texans’ hit list. Bonnen has said publicly he wanted to work for the re-election of all GOP lawmakers. The Sullivan account contradicts Bonnen and many of Bonnen’s legislative colleagues are buying into what Sullivan is saying.

This looks for all the world like dirty pool. It looks also to me that Speaker Bonnen’s time with his hands on the House gavel might come to an end when the next Legislature convenes in January 2021.

This is particularly troubling for me on a personal level, given my own intense distrust of Empower Texans and of Michael Quinn Sullivan. Empower Texans has sought to unseat at least two Republican legislators with whom I have a high personal and professional regard. I refer to two men from Amarillo, state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price.

They both got “primaried” in 2018, only to beat back those challenges with relative ease. Both men’s GOP primary opponents were recruited and funded by Empower Texans, which seeks to push an ultra-conservative legislative agenda throughout Texas.

So, for Speaker Dennis Bonnen to crawl into the political sack with these clowns — allegedly! — is distasteful on its face.

Welcome back to the arena, Mr. Speaker

I am so glad to see this bit of news about a former speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

Joe Straus has kicked in $2.5 million from his campaign treasure chest to form a political action committee that is going to fight for the “soul” of the Texas Republican Party.

What does that mean? It means that Straus is going to use his influence to persuade Texas GOP politicians to concentrate more on actual policy matters and less on divisive social issues. He wants the money he has pledged to promote GOP candidates who will be more focused on reasonable issues.

He cites health care and public education as the issues he wants the Republican Party to focus on going forward.

This is good news. Why? Well, I am one Texan who will be forever grateful for the kill shot that Straus — from San Antonio — fired during the 2017 Legislature that took down a ridiculous piece of legislation that cleared the Texas Senate but died a quick death in the House.

I refer to the Bathroom Bill, an item pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The Bathroom Bill would have required people to use public restrooms according to their gender at birth; the aim, quite obviously, was to disallow transgendered individuals from using restrooms that comport with their current gender.

Gov. Greg Abbott placed the Bathroom Bill on the 2017 Legislature’s special session agenda after the regular session adjourned. Straus was having none of it, to which I stood and applauded the then-speaker.

He wants to restore some additional sanity to the political discourse in Texas. He is taking aim at his own political party, which I am presuming he believes has been hijacked by social conservatives who want to enact discriminatory legislation … such as the Bathroom Bill.

As the Texas Standard has reported: Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston, says Straus’ new PAC is likely part of a larger Republican movement toward the center.

“That’s been a result of some campaigns and the election that just passed where a lot of soul searching has been done in the Republican Party,” Rottinghaus says. “I think that’s the subtext for this.”

I hope he is correct. I also hope that Speaker Straus can talk some sense into his Republican colleagues, persuading them to steer away from the lunacy that too often drives them to produce legislation such as the Bathroom Bill.

Speaker Bonnen sets constructive legislative agenda

Texas has a new speaker of the state House of Representatives.

Dennis Bonnen of Angleton is a Republican who says he doesn’t believe in “sugarcoating” issues. He says he calls ’em the way he sees ’em. “I am direct and I am a problem solver,” Bonnen said.

A new legislative era begins

But he also apparently is more interested in substantive matters than he is in some of the more cultural issues that came out of the Texas Senate in 2017.

Public school finance is Speaker Bonnen’s first priority, followed by human trafficking and property tax collection reform.

Bonnen succeeds Joe Straus as speaker. Straus, a San Antonio Republican, decided to step aside and not seek re-election in 2018. I am one Texan who is grateful, though, for Straus’s resistance to the Senate approval of that ridiculous Bathroom Bill, which required people using public restrooms to use those facilities that comport with the gender on their birth certificate. It discriminated against transgender individuals and Straus would have none of it.

Speaker Straus managed to scuttle the Bathroom Bill during the Legislature’s special session in the summer of 2017, angering Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, under whose watch the Senate approved the bill.

The new speaker’s legislative agenda suggests he is going to travel along the same path as his predecessor — to which I offer a salute.

Good luck, Mr. Speaker. May the new Man of the House lead the legislative chamber with wisdom and reason.

Will the new speaker be a bulwark?

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen appears set to become the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

The Angleton Republican says he has the votes to win the job when the Legislature convenes in January. I’m glad for him. I am not yet willing to say I’m glad for the state, given that I know nothing about him other than what I’ve read in recent days.

My favorite speaker candidate, Republican Four Price of Amarillo, bowed out of the race; three other GOP hopefuls did the same.

They left the field open to Bonnen.

Bonnen has the votes

I have a request of the presumptive speaker: Will you act as a bulwark against some of the Texas Senate’s more reckless impulses, the way the current speaker, Joe Straus, did in 2017?

I hope he does. Indeed, I understand that Bonnen has a bipartisan streak he might be willing to exhibit. One way is to select Democrats to chair House committees.

Bonnen is making some noise that he might stand tall against the likes of, say, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the leader of the Senate. The men have had an occasionally testy relationship. That suits me fine, given my distaste for some of the stunts that Patrick has tried to pull on the Legislature and, therefore, on Texans.

The most notorious stunt, of course, was the 2017 Bathroom Bill that the Senate shoved through at Patrick’s insistence. It got to the House during a special session in the summer of 2017. Speaker Straus dug in. He ensured the death of the bill that would have required individuals to use public rest rooms in accordance with the gender assigned on their birth certificate.

The Bathroom Bill intended to discriminate against transgendered people. Straus was having none of it.

Bonnen says he is an ally of the lame-duck speaker. I hope he remains faithful to Straus’s policy in running the House of Representatives.

The early indications about a Dennis Bonnen speakership look promising.

Don’t let me down — please! — Rep. Bonnen.

There goes my favorite speaker candidate

Well, dadgummit anyway!

Four Price of Amarillo, as fine a legislator as I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, has decided he doesn’t want to be the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

OK, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll acknowledge that Price also is a friend of mine. I’ve known him almost from the day I arrived in the Texas Panhandle way back in January 1995.

He was elected to the Texas House in 2011, succeeding another Republican lawmaker, David Swinford.

I wanted Price to run for speaker after Joe Straus announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to his House seat from San Antonio. I said so a time or three. Then Price decided to go for it.

Now he’s out. He’s thrown his support to Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

The Texas Tribune reports: On Sunday, … Price announced he was exiting the race, saying he and Bonnen had “had a number of candid and productive conversations about our vision for the future of Texas and how we can work together to make that future as bright as possible.”

If you know Four Price, you get the unmistakable sense that he means precisely what he told the Tribune.

That he is dedicated to the state’s future and wants the best for it.

It happens to be one of the reasons why I wanted him elected speaker of the House when the Legislature convenes in January.

If Four Price is up to remaining in the Legislature, I’m sure he’ll be in the hunt for the speakership at a later date. That, too, would be good for Texas.

Texas Democrats find the spring in their step

The just-concluded 2018 midterm election has produced a fascinating result in Texas.

The long-downtrodden Texas Democratic Party has rediscovered its mojo. Its members have a renewed spring in their step. They fell short in their goal of electing one of their own to a statewide office, but the fellow at the top of the ballot — Beto O’Rourke — came within 3 percentage points of defeating GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.

That’s not supposed to happen in blood-red Texas, which hasn’t elected a Democrat to a statewide office since 1994; the last Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate was Lloyd Bentsen, in 1988.

Now comes word out of Austin that the selection of the next Texas speaker of the House of Representatives will involve more Democratic votes among the 150 legislators.

Democrats carved into the GOP legislative majority. They’ll fill 67 seats in the 2019 Legislature; Republicans will occupy 83 of them.

That means Democrats will get to speak with a louder voice in determining who takes the gavel from Joe Straus, who didn’t seek re-election this year.

Democrats to join speaker fight

A Republican is a shoo-in to become the next speaker. That’s a given. My favorite for the speakership is my good friend Four Price, the Amarillo Republican who, in my view, would do a smashing job as the Man of the House. He is an ally of Speaker Straus, for whom I have high regard, given his torpedoing of the Bathroom Bill in 2017.

However, it’s good to see a semblance of two-party rule returning somewhat to the Texas House. The GOP remains the pre-eminent political party in a state that once was dominated by Democrats.

As for O’Rourke, I’m quite sure that Democratic Party loyalists and activists are getting way ahead of themselves by suggesting Beto should consider running for president in 2020. A better option might be to challenge John Cornyn for the U.S. Senate two years from now.

However, O’Rourke’s legacy for the state well might be that his presence on the ballot and his near-victory over the Cruz Missile has energized a political party that’s been in a hang-dog mood for as long as anyone can remember.

Speaker Straus to Lt. Gov. Patrick: Listen more, talk less

Joe Straus is now officially the lamest of ducks in Texas politics and government. The midterm election is over. The speaker of the Texas House didn’t run for re-election and voters in his San Antonio House district have selected a successor.

That doesn’t mean he is keeping quiet. He has offered Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the garrulous politician from Houston, some cogent advice: Patrick should “listen more and talk less” during next year’s Texas legislative session.

Patrick, not surprisingly, is having none of it. He responded in an interview with the Texas Tribune: “(Straus) decided he wanted to continue to poke a finger in the eye of Greg Abbott, the president, myself and conservatives as he goes out the door and I find that disappointing. I wish him the best and I thank him for his public service, but at the end of the day, it’s clear he’s not much of a conservative — and it’s beginning to look like he’s not much of a Republican.”

Read Texas Tribune story.

I suppose if Patrick’s view of a true Republican rests with some of the harsh, nutty notions that came out of the Texas Senate this past year, then perhaps he’s right about Straus. It sounds to me that Patrick is still miffed that Straus killed the Bathroom Bill that the Senate — over which Patrick presides — sent to the House. The Bathroom Bill required individuals to use public restrooms that comported with the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate. .

It clearly was a discriminatory measure aimed at transgender individuals. Straus called it a non-starter, along with police chiefs and other law enforcement officials across Texas.

Straus made sure the bill would die in a special legislative session during the summer of 2017. He said it was virtually unenforceable; he said it would harm businesses in Texas. He wanted no part of it.

The soon-to-be-former speaker is a reasonable man. He is as much of a Republican as Patrick, without the stridency that Patrick brings to his high-profile position.

To be candid, I’ll miss Straus’s leadership as the Man of the Texas House. As for Patrick, he ought to take Straus’s advice and listen more and talk less … a lot less.

Bathroom Bill looms over Patrick candidacy

I cannot forget or forgive the effort to legislate a patently discriminatory policy regarding the use of public restrooms.

And I put the responsibility for that effort right at the feet of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is running for re-election against Mike Collier.

Spoiler alert: I plan to vote for Collier.

Patrick managed to engineer a Texas Senate approval of a bill that would have required people to use public restrooms in accordance with the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate. It’s known now as the Bathroom Bill.

The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and is arguably the state’s most powerful elected official. The Senate approved the Bathroom Bill at Patrick’s insistence. Then it ran into House Speaker Joe Straus, another Republican, but one with common sense and the belief that Texas should not discriminate against transgender individuals, which is what the Bathroom Bill would have allowed.

Straus, who isn’t seeking re-election, blocked the Bathroom Bill, much to his credit. The House never approved it in its special session in the summer of 2017.

The Bathroom Bill remains an indelible scar on Lt. Gov. Patrick’s tenure as the Man of the Senate.

Collier is a former Republican who switched to the Democratic Party. The Houston Chronicle, which has endorsed Collier’s candidacy, likens him to another former lieutenant governor, Republican Bill Ratliff, one of the state’s great statesmen.

The Chronicle’s endorsement notes that Collier doesn’t look for simple solutions to complex problems.

Patrick, meanwhile, is quick with the quip — owing to his days as a radio broadcaster — and simplistic demagoguery.

The Bathroom Bill died the death it deserved in 2017. I don’t know what’ll happen when the 2019 Legislature convenes. My hope is that the next Texas Senate will be run by someone who won’t seek to demonize transgender individuals by resurrecting this patently hideous legislation.