State Rep. Dennis Bonnen announced Monday that he has support from 109 members to become the next speaker of the Texas House. That number, if it holds, is more than enough votes for him to win the gavel.
The Angleton Republican’s announcement came at a press conference not long after four other speaker candidates — Republicans Tan Parker, Four Price and Phil King, along with Democrat Eric Johnson — dropped out of the race within 48 hours. All four endorsed Bonnen, an outspoken and aggressive member of House leadership in recent years, upon removing their names from consideration. A spokesperson for Bonnen released the list of 109 House members supporting his speaker bid shortly after Monday's press conference adjourned.
“We are here to let you know the speaker's race is over, and the Texas House is ready to go to work,” said Bonnen, who was flanked by at least two members of the hardline conservative Texas House Freedom Caucus — Jeff Leach of Plano and Mike Lang of Granbury — and state Rep. Tom Craddick, a Midland Republican and former speaker, among other Republican and Democrats.
His list of supporters includes a wide range of lawmakers — from hardline conservatives like Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, to moderates like Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, to Democrats like Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth.
When asked by reporters what the House's No. 1 priority would be during the 2019 legislative session, Bonnen suggested school finance would be at the top of members' lists.
Shortly after Bonnen wrapped up his news conference, campaigns for Republicans Travis Clardy and Drew Darby — the last two House members in the race, aside from Bonnen — confirmed to The Texas Tribune that they were withdrawing. Neither confirmed whether Clardy or Darby planned to endorse Bonnen.
To be clear, Bonnen needs to retain at least 76 supporters until the full 150-member chamber votes on a new speaker. That floor vote will happen on the first day of the Texas legislative session in January. In the meantime, the GOP caucus, which makes up a majority of members, is set to meet Dec. 1 to rally around its preferred speaker candidate. The Democrats, who will likely hold 67 seats next session, are also trying to stay united in hopes of influencing the vote.
Many questions remain about how Bonnen will lead the lower chamber. During Monday's press conference, he preached unity and dumped cold water on rumors that there would be no Democratic committee chairs under his leadership — adding that he would adhere to the House tradition of being a "bipartisan chamber."
"We are excited to bring the house together, to be unified and to do good work for the people of Texas," he said.
After Bonnen's announcement, Rep. Chris Turner, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, released a statement that steered clear of endorsing or opposing Bonnen's candidacy.
“House Democrats remain committed, as we always have, to working with anyone who is willing to put the voters of Texas first," said Turner, who wasn't on Bonnen's list of 109 votes. "We expect any speaker to let members represent their district, and to prioritize real solutions for all Texans."
As speaker, Bonnen will get a seat at the table as one of the big three members of Texas state government, along with Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate and has clashed with Bonnen and other members of House leadership in the past. Late Monday, Abbott released a statement congratulating Bonnen.
"I know from my dealings with Chairman Bonnen that no one works harder or more passionately for Texas," Abbott said. "There are a number of important and pressing issues facing Texas as we head into this next legislative session, including reforming school finance and elevating our education system."
Bonnen, who has been in the House since 1997, is chairman of the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee. While he has been long considered a top ally of retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican more aligned with the centrist faction of the party, Bonnen is also considered to ideologically hew closer than Straus with the further right-wing of the GOP.
Straus released a statement of support for Bonnen soon after the press conference finished.
"Having worked closely with Dennis Bonnen in his roles as speaker pro tempore and one of our top committee chairs, I have confidence in his leadership, intelligence and commitment to the Texas House," Straus said. "I trust that, under Dennis' leadership, the Texas House will continue to be a place where members work together and put the best interests of Texans first."
This report was provided by The Texas Tribune.