Dennis Bonnen’s tenure as speaker of the Texas House was all but done once a tape recording confirmed the speaker was willing to make a deal with a right-wing political activist to target some of Bonnen’s fellow House Republicans during next year’s elections. Bonnen scrambled for a while to try to save his political career, but once he lost the trust of his fellow Republican legislators, it was over, and Bonnen made it official this week. He will not seek reelection to his House seat during the 2020 elections.
Unless Gov. Greg Abbott calls a special legislative session — and one is not anticipated at this point — Bonnen will officially remain speaker until a new speaker is elected by House members when the next regular legislative session convenes in January 2021. This adds to the importance of next year’s legislative races because lawmakers elected next year will decide who the next speaker is.
During his only session as speaker, Bonnen joined with Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to enact House Bill 3, which boosted state education spending by several billion dollars, including money for pay raises and critical classroom programs. The three leaders did this only because educators voted in large numbers during the 2018 elections and elected several new, pro-public education candidates to the House and the Senate.
But HB3 also put new restrictions of school districts’ ability to raise new revenue, and it made only a down payment on real school finance reform. It is essential that educators plan now to vote education first in the 2020 legislative elections and elect state representatives and state senators who will continue the work of adequately funding our public schools and fighting privatization.
The next speaker will be crucial to this endeavor, and educators’ votes in 2020 legislative races — both in the party primaries and the general election — can help determine who the next speaker will be. TSTA will begin making legislative endorsements from both parties early next year, and, as always, our only issue will be education.
The competition will be ferocious. Empower Texans, the well-funded, right-wing, pro-voucher group that was instrumental in Bonnen’s downfall, will be actively supporting candidates who will line up behind a speaker favoring school privatization. Educators must counter that by voting once again in large numbers for education first! We must elect legislators who will choose a new speaker who will make more education funding a priority and oppose privatization.