Presumptive Texas House Speaker excites Valley lawmakers

During a time when Democrats and Republicans can’t seem to agree on much, many lawmakers in Texas have agreed on supporting Dennis Bonnen to be the next Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. Bonnen, a Republican, 20-year veteran state representative from the small Gulf Coast town of Angleton, has conjured the support from most of the Rio Grande Valley delegation, which is made up entirely of Democrats.

In an attempt to visit colleagues, Bonnen has been barnstorming across the state in recent weeks to sure up his ascension to the speakership. One of his first stops recently was the Valley, where most of the delegation, and the Border Health Political Action Committee, met with Bonnen.

The group talked about infrastructure and health care needs in South Texas. And Bonnen emphasized that public school finance is his top priority. This was welcome news to the South Texas delegation.

“There’s a big need in the Valley with infrastructure and education and health care, and his top priority is school finance,” State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, said. “That’s something the legislature has kicked down the road over the years. Republicans have focused on social issues rather than more important issues for Texas.”

Martinez and his colleagues emphasized Bonnen’s willingness to help the Valley.

“The presumptive Speaker seems not only engaged but extremely hands-on when it comes to not only addressing but helping the Valley achieve its legislative priorities,” State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said.

Canales added that he told Bonnen about the need for more roads connecting to the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.

“This is not just a South Texas priority, it’s a national priority,” Canales said. “It’s disheartening that it’s taken this long, but I believe it’s finally going to come to fruition under presumptive Speaker Bonnen’s leadership.”

State Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, was not able to attend the meeting, but spoke with Bonnen before and after.

“We’re lucky that we have an ongoing dialogue with the presumptive speaker, so if there’s something we support, he’ll help us get there,” Longoria said in an interview. “And he’s very open and tries to make himself very available.”

While Bonnen is not yet speaker, he has collected promises from 109 members, to succeed outgoing Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican known for being a centrist in the Republican Party. Bonnen is considered to be ideologically closer to Straus than to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who falls much further right of the GOP.

Straus in a statement said he supports Bonnen, who has been in the House since 1997.

“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 in the statement. “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.”

The South Texas delegation spoke highly of Straus, but seemed more excited by Bonnen.

“Speaker Straus was a friend to the Valley and he was respectful of our priorities and helped in every way that he could,” Canales said. “Presumptive Speaker Bonnen seems to be taking the Valley’s priorities a step further by being much more hands-on and aggressive in accomplishing what our priorities are.”

The delegation was also optimistic that Bonnen will keep his word.

“I’m very hopeful that he’s going to keep this spirit,” Martinez said. “He’s with the mindset that everybody needs to be able to do something in the legislature, and that’s to represent their district. The minute you don’t allow members to be members for the people that they represent, it starts becoming a problem.”