Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Lake Jackson, said Tuesday that he will not seek re-election.
His decision to not seek another term comes after a secret recording, released by conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, captured Bonnen offering media credentials in exchange for Sullivan targeting “moderate” Republican House members in the 2020 GOP primary.
“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 said in a written statement, which included a list of 43 House Republicans that “have made clear that it is in the best interest of both myself and the House to move on.”
Bonnen did not say whether he would keep his seat, and the speakership, for the remainder of his term, which runs through the convening of the next session in January 2021.
The 43 Republicans include his brother, Dr. Greg Bonnen of Friendswood and former Speaker Tom Craddick of Midland, who stayed in the House after he was deposed as speaker and replaced by Bonnen’s predecessor, Joe Straus. The list also includes Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth, who chairs the House Republican Caucus, and state Rep. Jim Murphy of Houston, who was elected vice chairman of the caucus as a Bonnen loyalist in midst of the controversy that has now cost him his speakership.
Hours before his announcement, top Republicans in the House released a statement saying they no longer want Bonnen to serve as speaker.
State Reps. Dan Huberty of Houston, Lyle Larson of San Antonio, Four Price of Amarillo, Chris Paddie of Marshall and John Frullo of Lubbock said the secret recording of Bonnen released last week by Sullivan “damaged the reputation of the House and relationships among individual members.”
Following a House Republican Caucus meeting on Friday, the caucus issued a statement condemning Bonnen and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, the former House GOP Caucus chair.
The caucus had been informed by its counsel that there is no precedent or mechanism for replacing a speaker when the House is not in session. Gov. Greg Abbott could call a special session of the Legislature to give the House an opportunity to do that, but there has been no appetite for a special session from the governor or Republican members of the House.
The caucus retreat came days after Sullivan, CEO of the political group Empower Texans, released a 64 minute audio recording of his June 12 meeting with Bonnen and Burrows.
In the recording, Bonnen said he’d like to have “an understanding” with Sullivan, who has supported conservative challengers in the past.
“If you need some primaries to fight in, I will leave and (Burrows) will tell you some we’d love if you fought in,” Bonnen said. “Not that you need our permission.”
Bonnen also disparaged local governments and a handful of House Democrats in the recording, calling state Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton, “vile.” He also said state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, “makes my skin crawl” and is “a piece of s---.”
Bonnen recalled that his Chief of Staff Gavin Massingill said Rosenthal’s wife is going to “be really pissed when she learns he’s gay.”
On Monday, Bonnen tried to clarify remarks he made about local governments.
In the recording, Bonnen said he told any mayor or county judge that met with him: “My goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties.”
Bonnen sent out 12 tweets Monday, saying that he has “great respect and admiration for our city officials.” He also said he was trying to discuss large cities rather than rural areas.
I have great respect & admiration for our city & county officials. Understand why I said what I did. I am NOT anti local govt, but I AM a pro-taxpayer conservative. It is the large, progressive, urban local govts that have been working against TX taxpayers for years. THREAD
— Speaker Dennis Bonnen (@RepDennisBonnen) October 22, 2019 “I am NOT anti local govt, but I AM a pro-taxpayer conservative,” he tweeted. “It is the large, progressive, urban local govts that have been working against TX taxpayers for years.”
Following Bonnen’s announcement that he will not seek re-election, Sullivan sent out a series of tweets about the decision.
Disgraced #TxLege Speaker @RepDennisBonnen just announced he is not seeking re-election. The unethical stain he placed on the @TexasGOP and the House can begin to be cleaned away.
— Michael Quinn Sullivan (@MQSullivan) October 22, 2019 “Disgraced #TxLege Speaker @RepDennisBonnen just announced he is not seeking re-election,” Sullivan tweeted. “The unethical stain he placed on the @TexasGOP and the House can begin to be cleaned away.”
Meanwhile, Texas Democratic party chair Gilberto Hinojosa called the decision “a victory for transparency and accountability.”
“Texans are tired of politicians, like (Bonnen), who use backroom deals, cover-ups and outright lies to pursue power over everything,” Hinojosa said.