Tag Archives: Texas House

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.

Bye, bye … Speaker Bonnen

It’s one and done for Dennis Bonnen.

As in one term as speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and now he’s gone, retiring at the end of 2020 from the Legislature.

The Angleton Republican won’t seek re-election next year to another House term. It’s is just as well, given that he squandered the trust of his fellow GOP lawmakers by engaging in a surreptitious conversation with a well-known right-wing radical political activist — in which Bonnen offered the radical the names of 10 GOP lawmakers the said radical could target in the next election.

I am referring to Empower Texans main man Michael Quinn Sullivan, who’s made a career out of targeting Republicans in Texas who don’t adhere to the same rigid ideology as he and his group. He has drawn a bead in the past, for example, on state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo and state Rep. Four Price, also of Amarillo. He lost those effort to unseat two fine legislators.

There are others, too, who have been victimized by this guy.

He now has brought down Speaker Bonnen, which the more I think about it might have been his aim all along. Sullivan and Bonnen aren’t exactly allies, but Sullivan recorded that meeting he had with Bonnen and former Texas House GOP caucus chairman Dustin Burrows of Lubbock. He said he had the goods on Bonnen, who denied giving up the names of those 10 legislators. Oh, but then the recording was released and Bonnen can be heard using some pithy language to describe his fellow Republicans.

At least 30 GOP House members had declared they either would not support him for re-election as speaker or flat out asked him to resign his speakership.

Bonnen took the least painful course. He won’t run for his Gulf Coast seat in 2020.

That’s all fine with me. I don’t want the Man of the Texas House to be a tool of a right-wing outfit such as Empower Texans, or of Michael Quinn Sullivan. My hope is that the next speaker of the House will stand up to this guy, tell him to take a hike and proceed to run the legislative chamber with at least a modicum of honesty and integrity.

Dennis Bonnen has failed to do so. For that reason I am glad to see him gone.

Right-wing zealot was right about what happened with Speaker Bonnen

I detest the politics of Michael Quinn Sullivan, the head of Empower Texans, the right-wing political action committee that seeks to yank the Texas political structure even farther to the right … if that is even possible.

Still, we now know that what Sullivan said about Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen — that the speaker was willing to give up 10 House Republicans while granting a political favor for Empower Texans — was correct.

Sullivan released the full text of a recorded conversation he and Bonnen had earlier this year. Bonnen had denied the contents of what Sullivan had alleged; then he kinda/sorta backed off and apologized to House members he insulted.

As the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey reported in his analysis, Bonnen now becomes a potentially vulnerable House speaker: “But that political discussion, as Bonnen calls it, was fraught with underhanded scheming, given Bonnen’s constituents — the other 149 members of the Texas House — everything they need to replace, if that’s what they’d like to do.”

This revelation disappoints me. I had hoped that Bonnen might continue the tradition of moderate leadership set by his immediate predecessor, former GOP state Rep. Joe Straus. Silly me. It now turns out he can be had, as Sullivan’s recording has revealed.

He agreed to give Sullivan the names of 10 Republican lawmakers who Sullivan’s group could target in next year’s election. Empower Texans also would be granted media credentials, giving the PAC access to legislators on the House floor.

If I were a Republican lawmaker — even if my name wasn’t one of those given to Sullivan — I would be, shall we say, really pi**ed off!

Speaker Bonnen appears to have squandered the trust he sought from his GOP caucus in the House.

I won’t predict this will happen, but count me as one Texas resident who wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the Texas House finds a new speaker in January 2021.

Have the stakes risen as Texas prepares to vote in 2020?

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen appears to have made a big mistake. Whether he has inflicted a mortal wound on the Texas Republican Party remains to be seen.

The Texas Tribune reports that the stakes for the 2020 election in Texas might have risen exponentially as Bonnen tries to repair the damage done by a reportedly secret meeting with a high-powered, ultra-conservative political activist. In that meeting, Bonnen — an Angleton Republican — allegedly offered up the names of 10 GOP lawmakers that the activist, Michael Quinn Sullivan, could defeat in exchange for press credentials inside the House chamber.

Sullivan runs that far-right outfit called Empower Texans. I detest Empower Texans. So do many other Texans, even many Republicans.

Bonnen became speaker at the start of the 2019 Legislature with a reputation as something of a GOP moderate. I guess he can be had, right? Yep. Apparently so.

So now it becomes questionable whether the Texas House might flip from Republican to Democratic control after the 2020 election. Democrats need to flip nine House seats next year to win control of the lower legislative chamber.

I am one Texan who isn’t of the Republican ilk, although I have a few GOP lawmakers I count as friends; they are people I respect and for whom I have personal affection. I doubt strongly any of them would be in danger of losing their seats in 2020.

That all said, Bonnen’s reported deal to provide the names of 10 fellow Republicans to Hatchetman Sullivan isn’t playing well among Republican circles. It’s also giving Democrats ammo to use against their GOP foes as they seek to campaign for control of the Texas House of Representatives.

This tumult also might put Bonnen’s speakership in jeopardy. He took the gavel from former Republican Speaker Joe Straus, who didn’t seek re-election in 2018. I admired Straus’s leadership of the House and his commitment to stand firm against the likes of Empower Texans and Michael Quinn Sullivan. I just wish Bonnen had shown the same courage as Straus.

Texas is now seen as a potential battleground state on the presidential election level. Democrats might have actual, tangible and demonstrable reason for optimism that they can control at least one legislative chamber as they prepare for the 2020 election.

Not very ‘pro-life’ of this legislator

I am trouble grasping the logic of this proposal by a Texas legislator.

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republican, wants to criminalize abortion. He wants to charge every woman who terminates a pregnancy with homicide, or murder. He wants, therefore, to subject that woman to the death penalty, which Texas allows for those convicted of murder.

He is a “pro-life” legislator? I don’t get how that computes.

Enter a more reasonable GOP lawmaker, Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano (pictured), who says he won’t allow Tinderholt’s bill to the House of Representatives floor for a full vote among the state’s 150 state representatives.

Leach chairs the Texas House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence. Since announcing his plan to stop House Bill 896, Leach has received threats at his office. The Collin County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the source of those threats.

Yes, this issue is highly sensitive. It pushes hot buttons on folks they possibly didn’t know existed on their person.

As for Tinderholt’s idea of criminalizing a legal medical procedure — which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled — it doesn’t sound very “pro-life” to kill someone who makes the most difficult decision she ever would make.

This debate over women’s right to choose whether to give birth needs to stay on a more sane track than the one proposed by Rep. Tinderholt.

Thank goodness there exist some sense of reason among Texas Republicans.

Rep. Price gets handed a very large gavel

It’s clear that Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick didn’t give state Sen. Kel Seliger any love when he handed out committee assignments for the 2019 Texas Senate.

He yanked the Amarillo Republican out of the chairmanship of the Senate Higher Education Committee, pulled him off the Senate Education Committee and off the Finance Committee. Patrick “awarded” Seliger the Agriculture Committee chairmanship then snatched that one away when Seliger made an impolite comment about a key Patrick adviser.

Now, what about the Texas House of Representatives? Well, Speaker Dennis Bonnen has handed out a gigantic gavel to state Rep. Four Price, another Amarillo Republican.

Price will chair the House Calendars Committee. It’s a big deal, man! Here’s why: The Calendars Committee determines the legislative flow; the chairman is able to stop legislation from being considered by the full House. OK, so it’s more of a procedural panel than a policy-making one. But . . . it carries huge responsibility in determining how the House does its business.

I used to know a previous Calendars chairman quite well. State Rep. Mark Stiles was a Beaumont Democrat who chaired that panel in the 1980s. Stiles, who no longer serves in the Legislature, was quite proud of the influence he had in controlling legislative traffic. Stiles also was quite fond of reminding anyone who would listen that he was good friends with the House speaker, the lieutenant governor, the governor. You name it, anyone with real power in Austin was a BFF of the legislator who nicknamed himself “Bubba.”

I mention this because I don’t expect Rep. Four Price to carry on in that fashion. He’s a more, um, humble individual who seems — as I have known him — to take his public service far more seriously than he takes himself.

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.

No legislative interference on this football matter, please

Texas House Bill 412 needs to go . . . nowhere!

What is it? It is a bill proposed by state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, that requires the University of Texas and Texas A&M University to play a football game sometime in November each year.

That’s right. Rep. Larson — an A&M alumnus — wants the Legislature to intervene in a decision that should rest entirely with the athletic directors of the respective universities.

I’ve already endorsed the so-called “end game.” I want the Longhorns and Aggies to resume their storied football rivalry, which ended in 2011 when A&M left the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference.

When the Aggies bolted, the series ended. Period.

But is the Legislature the right avenue to travel to bring this thing back? No. It’s the kind of feel-good legislation one sees on occasion. Legislators and members of Congress occasionally get all worked up when tragedy strikes; they seek a legislative remedy to prevent horrible events from recurring.

This kind of legislation sort of falls into that category.

I respect Rep. Larson’s desire to bring the rivalry back. I do not believe the Texas Legislature should waste a moment of its time debating it. Lawmakers have a lot of other matters to consider. You know, small stuff such as, oh, water policy, highway construction, education reform, tax-and-spend matters. The 2019 Legislature might even consider whether to rescind the authority it granted cities to install and deploy red-light cameras to catch traffic violators in the act of breaking the law; don’t go there, lawmakers.

Larson did make a cogent point, though. “It’s time for the folks in Austin and College Station to get in a room and make a deal to restore the rivalry,” he told the Texas Tribune.

You are correct, sir. They can — and should — hammer it out without interference from the Texas Legislature.

Let’s play a congressional succession parlor game

The Texas Tribune has broached a subject that caught my attention, even though I no longer live in the congressional district represented by a man whose been in office for more than 23 years.

The Trib reports that “many Republican operatives” believe Rep. Mac Thornberry, the newly re-elected Republican, is going to serve his final term in the House of Representatives beginning in January. Why? He might not cotton to being a member of the “minority party” in the House; he is surrendering his coveted Armed Services Committee chairmanship and won’t be able to serve as ranking member when he hands the gavel to his Democratic colleague.

I’ve moved away, but I retain a deep interest in Texas Panhandle politics. The 13th Congressional District is part of that landscape.

So . . . let’s play a parlor game called “Who’s Next?”

I’ll start by stipulating that the 13th District is arguably the most Republican congressional district in America. The next House member, if Thornberry calls it quits, is going to come from the GOP. Thornberry was re-elected this month with a whopping 81.6 percent majority in what was a “blue wave” year in other previously strong GOP districts.

It’s less certain, but still reasonably certain, that the next House member will come from the Panhandle portion of the sprawling 13th, which stretches from the very top of Texas to the western outskirts of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Congressional representation is rooted deeply in the Panhandle.

So, who might the next House rep be? I’ll toss a couple of names out there for you to ponder. They are Republican Texas legislators. Both are from Amarillo. Both are friends of mine. Both are fine men with ample political experience to take on the job of representing the entire 13th District.

State Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price? Stand up and take a bow.

Seliger would seem like the better fit for the 13th District. He’s a retired businessman who essentially works full time as a state senator. His Senate district stretches from the Panhandle to the Permian Basin. He is a native of Borger who is as fluent in Permian-speak as he is in Panhandle-speak. He and Thornberry are political allies and friends, from all that I have gathered; then again, so are Price and Thornberry.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think highly of Four Price, too. I’ve known him for as long as I’ve known Seliger. He has a successful Amarillo law practice and has risen to the top of the legislative roster in the 150-member Texas House. Texas Monthly named him one of the state’s top legislators after the 2017 Legislature.

Seliger, though, brings some municipal government experience as well as legislative experience to any consideration of who should — if the opportunity presents itself — succeed Mac Thornberry. He served on the Amarillo City Commission as commissioner and then mayor before being elected to the Texas Senate.

I am making no predictions. I merely am stating what I think might happen if the Texas Tribune’s report is accurate.

Let’s all stay tuned and wait for the fur to fly when the next Congress convenes.

Speaker-to-be Bonnen is OK with the far right

Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, is poised to become the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

I wish him well. He succeeds Joe Straus of San Antonio, the GOP strongman who stood up to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas Senate when the need arose.

I hope Rep. Bonnen is made of the same stern stuff. He’s a moderate who likes to work across the aisle. He has had his differences with the Freedom Caucus wing of the legislative Republicans who serve with him. But the Texas Tribune reports that almost all the returning Freedom Caucus members are OK with the new speaker, assuming he gets the nod in January.

I get that the Freedom Caucus comprises only 11 members in a 150-member Texas House. History tells us that far right and sometimes far left fringe groups develop outsized influence that reaches far beyond their meager numbers.

Given the nature of Texas Republican politics, it’s likely too much to assume the Freedom Caucus will follow the speaker’s lead and become more of a moderate influence in the Legislature.

Whenever I think of these far-right groups, I think immediately of Empower Texans, the right-wing loons who sought to topple two of the Legislature’s shining stars — two fellows who happen to be friends of mine to boot!

They are state Rep. Four Price and state Sen. Kel Seliger, two Amarillo Republicans who fended off challenges in handsome fashion. The challenge was financed by Empower Texans, the far right group that seeks to influence local political races all across the state. Empower Texans got its mitts on a number of contests, but given that I was living in during the spring primary season, I got to witness Empower Texans’ dirty work up close.

So, it is my hope that the new speaker keeps his distance from the Freedom Caucus and certainly from Empower Texans.