Texas GOP House Speaker Dennis Bonnen says he will not run for re-election, making the announcement less than a week after the release of a secretly recorded conversation in which he sought help ousting members of his own party in 2020 and called a female lawmaker "vile."
The recorded conversation is at the center of an ongoing state police investigation into whether Bonnen improperly offered House media credentials in exchange for campaign help. It's also thrown Republicans into disarray at a time when their state dominance is slipping.
"He has decided not to run for re-election, and I think he believes that's the best for the state of Texas and the Texas House, and I agree with him," Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) said. "I think it is time for us to move on."
Though he will not seek re-election in 2020, Bonnen of Angleton, Texas, will serve the rest of his first term as House speaker.
The Texas Legislature won't meet again until 2021, when lawmakers will redraw voting maps and political control of the House and Senate will be critical. Heading into 2020, Democrats can grab a majority if they flip nine seats in the lower chamber.
The secretly recorded June meeting between Bonnen and the head of a conservative group called Empower Texans is at the center of an ongoing state police investigation. The lobbying group often criticizes Republicans it feels aren't conservative enough on issues such as spending, abortion and guns,
Bonnen can be heard asking for the help of Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan in targeting several Republican incumbents in primaries next year. He also suggests he can provide a news affiliate of Empower Texans with media credentials for access to the House floor in exchange for the group's help.
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Bonnen sought to drive out moderate GOP members who he believed stood in the way of his agenda, and he used crude language while discussing freshman Democrats whose midterm victories in 2018 weakened the GOP's House majority.
"Jon Rosenthal makes my skin crawl. He's a piece of (expletive)," Bonnen said in the recording. He refers to Michelle Beckley as "vile."
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who remained largely silent after the tape was released, thanked Bonnen in for his work but did not comment directly on the scandal.
"Looking ahead to 2020, the Republican Party of Texas must unite and work together to retain a majority in the Texas House," Abbott said in a statement. "To that cause, I am redoubling my efforts to ensure we achieve that goal."
Five top House Republicans released a statement Monday night stating they no longer supported Bonnen. "It is clear that trust and confidence in the Speaker has significantly eroded among our membership, and the matter has both damaged the reputation of the House and relationships among individual members," they said.
The cracks in Republican support came to light in the past few days. The House Republican Caucus condemned Bonnen's remarks and five committee chairmen said they no longer supported him.
Bonnen's longtime friend, Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), said he could no longer support Bonnen as Speaker. He released a statement, which said in part, "While he is my friend, the all-important bonds of integrity, honor, and trust have been deeply damaged by his actions."
Leadership from the House Democratic Caucus said, "Speaker Bonnen has made the right decision, as it has become increasingly clear that he no longer has the support to serve as Speaker again. Democratic members of the House will continue our work to lead Texas to a better tomorrow by focusing on strong public schools, affordable health care and stopping gun violence."
Bonnen's full statement is below.
“Since Friday, I have had numerous conversations with Members who care deeply about the Texas House, and I respect the manner in which they have handled this entire situation. 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. I care deeply about this body and the work we have accomplished over the years, namely, the outstanding success we achieved in the 86th Legislature. My below colleagues have made clear that it is in the best interest of both myself and the House to move on, and I thank them for the respectful and thoughtful way in which they have convinced me to do so."”
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