First-term Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on Tuesday announced he will not seek reelection to the lower chamber in 2020 – marking an end to the Angleton Republican’s months-long political fallout that has roiled the lower chamber he oversees.
“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, which included a list of 43 House Republicans – a majority of the House GOP Caucus – that the speaker said “have made clear that it is in the best interest of both myself and the House to move on.”
Bonnen’s political future was first called into question in late July, when hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, who heads the group Empower Texans, revealed that Sullivan, Bonnen and 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 sh–.”
A majority of members were at first unsure of what to think about the allegations, given that Sullivan was a longtime critic of House leadership and that their new speaker had overseen a legislative session that was hailed largely as a success.
But that uncertainty disappeared for a lot of members and political observers last week, when Sullivan released his secret recording of that June 12 meeting that largely confirmed his allegations against the speaker. Bonnen, in 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.”
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.
Bonnen’s decision not to seek reelection means his seat in House District 25 will be open for the first time in over two decades. One Republican, emergency room nurse Rhonda Seth, was already running for the seat before Tuesday, aiming to take out Bonnen. The district in southeast Texas is solidly Republican.
Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.