On Tuesday, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen announced he would no longer seek re-election, prematurely ending his time in the legislature and as House Speaker.
Bonnen’s exit from the Texas House comes a week after the release of a secret recording showing an attempted backroom deal and quid pro quo by the House Speaker. The audio comes from a June meeting with Bonnen and right-wing CEO of Empower Texans, Michael Quinn Sullivan. In the meeting, Bonnen can be heard offering Sullivan media credentials in exchange for political attacks on the Speaker’s own Republican colleagues.
Despite the announcement, the Texas Rangers investigation into the meeting and Bonnen’s quid pro quo are still ongoing, according to CBS.
State Rep. Chris Turner, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, told the Signal on Tuesday the Bonnen scandal has political repercussions.
“It is a huge distraction for Republicans to deal with,” Turner said. “It is, unfortunately, emblematic of a party that’s been in complete control for too long. And when they have complete power, they do things like this and do things that create this perception of a culture of corruption.”
Even before the Bonnen scandal, Democrats were focused on winning the state House in 2020. “I think we had excellent chances even before all of this,” he said. “Democrats picked up 12 seats in 2018, only 9 short of a majority. Now, there are roughly 20 Republican-held districts that are very competitive.”
Turner said Trump’s poor performance in Texas’ suburbs, especially women, may have already been enough to capture those nine seats.
It’s unclear how Bonnen’s announcement and the surrounding scandal will affect Republicans at the polls next year, but the party’s far-right, or the self-described “good guys,” are celebrating Bonnen’s departure.
During the previous legislative session, Sullivan and other far-right Republicans clashed with Bonnen over his perceived reluctance to tackle red meat issues, namely abortion (it’s worth noting Republicans most definitely hampered reproductive rights this past session).
Turner said he believed far-right Republicans like Sullivan’s group, Empower Texans, will be emboldened by their successful plot against Bonnen. “The consensus in the legislature from Republicans was that group had been marginalized, they weren’t effective in the legislature,” Turner said. “Ironically, Speaker Bonnen breathed new life into that organization by having this meeting.”
Still, the scandal is playing out in an increasingly unfavorable political climate for the Republican Party.
“Now more than ever, it is clear that only the election of Texas Democrats will return ethics and good governance to our great state,” notes the Texas Democratic Party in a statement.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org