Bonnen pledges to unite Texas House, fix ‘our state’s broken school finance system’
AUSTIN — Dennis Bonnen couldn’t say he aspired to be Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.
“I never dreamed of or planned to be in this position,” Bonnen said.
But being the lone member nominated for the position and receiving all 147 possible votes Tuesday afternoon, it is the job Bonnen now has and one generating optimism throughout the Texas Capitol.
Bonnen made it clear in his first address as speaker he plans to unite the House and help make the 86th Texas Legislature the one that finally fixes “our state’s broken school finance system.”
The Angleton native has represented District 25 in the Texas House since 1997. After three sessions serving as a deputy to House Speaker Joe Straus, who did not seek re-election in November, Bonnen quickly corralled support after being urged by colleagues to seek the top spot.
After the speaker was sworn in, Gov. Greg Abbott called Bonnen the most passionate advocate for the Texas House.
“Dennis is a good friend of mine and I can tell you from personal experience, I know for a fact, he is going to be an outstanding speaker,” Abbott said, “not just for this House, but for the entire state of Texas.”
State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, nominated Bonnen for the position.
“We are the Texas House, the greatest legislative body in the entire country,” Burrows said. “However, in order to be successful, we need a speaker who will let the body work to realize its fullest potential, to let members represent their districts and stand up for the House.”
Burrows called Bonnen “a speaker that the Texas House deserves.”
Two other Republicans and three Democrats spoke to second the nomination, showing a united front before the unanimous vote reinforced it.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who has served under six speakers during her 45 years in the Texas House, said she believes Bonnen will be her “lucky No. 7.”
“In his 22 years of experience, he has learned the ins and the outs of the Texas House as well as anyone I’ve ever served with,” Thompson said. “Dennis is a man who keeps his word.”
Representatives should trust Bonnen when he says he wants to unite the House, reduce bickering of recent years and put school finance reform front and center this session, she said.
“Dennis would be a fighter and a champion for this house,” Thompson said.
When asked what a Speaker Bonnen administration would look like, Bonnen said his job is to level the playing field and make sure every member is heard, Fort Worth Republican Matt Krause said.
“I think that’s all you can ask for a speaker and all you want from a speaker,” Krause said.
Bonnen hopes to preside over an environment that is collaborative in the House, and he said it’s time each and every member on the floor gets to know each other at a personal level.
“My job is simple. I’ll bring passionate people to the table then keep you in the room until we find a solution,” Bonnen said.
That will require tough conversations, he said, and tough conversations are even tougher between strangers.
“It’s time we get to know each and every member on this floor,” Bonnen said. “Make new friends. Look beyond differences. Learn what life events shaped one another’s perspectives.”
This should help bridge “partisan, geographical and social divides” to better face the challenges and “big issues” before the representatives, Bonnen said.
“These are complicated issues that can no longer wait,” he said, “pressing issues that deserve meaningful results.”
These issues include school finance reform — which encompasses appreciating current and retired teachers’ investment in children, prioritizing early education, improving Child Protective Services, addressing school safety and addressing mental health issues — as well as fighting “despicable” human trafficking, reforming property taxes improving health care and recovering from Hurricane Harvey, he said.
“I am convinced we can move the needle on these opportunities if we treat one another with mutual respect and understanding and stay focused on the lives we affect with every vote we take on this floor,” Bonnen said.
While Bonnen feels prepared to help representatives tackle the issues, Rep. Eddie Lucio III, R-Brownsville, said Bonnen’s character is another thing that makes him the appropriate choice for speaker.
When Lucio and his wife had a pregnancy scare during a legislative session, Bonnen ensured him family is the most important thing and personally walked him out of the Capitol to ensure he would go home, Lucio said.
“As tough as he is in Austin, members, there’s no better than him when it comes to relationships and constituency work back home,” Lucio said.
Bonnen is a mentor who encourages people to work hard, he said.
“People don’t go as fast as they can, they go as fast as they are led. And let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, good luck keeping up with Dennis Bonnen,” Lucio said.