Late Monday, the night before Texas Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Bonnen, announced he would resign, Bonnen defended himself of comments he made over the summer bashing cities and counties, which was revealed in secretly recorded audio released last week.
“Let me tell you something,” Bonnen, R-Angleton, said in the audio, which was from a June meeting with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, who recorded and released the audio. “In this office, and in the conference room on that end, any mayor or county judge who’s dumbass enough to come meet with me, I told them with great clarity, my goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties.”
Bonnen was widely criticized for many of his remarks in the 64 minutes of leaked audio, and on Monday night, Bonnen for the first time publicly specifically addressed components of the remarks, which was met with a response from McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.
“I have great respect & admiration for our city & county officials,” Bonnen wrote on Twitter Monday night. “Understand why I said what I did. I am NOT anti local govt, but I AM a pro-taxpayer conservative. It is the large, progressive, urban local govts that have been working against TX taxpayers for years.”
So began a string of 12 tweets defending his remarks about local government control, which local officials across the state have criticized. Darling responded to Bonnen’s tweets on Monday night.
“Mr. Speaker, I was one of the Mayors that you met before the session and thought we had a good meeting about my City,” Darling wrote after 8 p.m. on Monday. “I was hurt by your comments but – a good lesson for everyone. But remember there are 1,000 cities and the attempt to punish a few was an assault against us all.”
Shortly before 8 a.m. Tuesday, following calls to resign from many within the Republican Party, including his own brother, Bonnen announced he would leave.
“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,” Bonnen said in a statement, which included a list of 43 House Republicans who said that the speaker had “made clear that it is in the best interest of both myself and the House to move on.”
Criticism came from colleagues on both sides of the aisle, but lawmakers in the Rio Grande Valley did not call for his resignation following the release of the audio last week. State Reps. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, expressed disappointment over Bonnen’s remarks, but did not ask him to step down like dozens of other lawmakers did.
Martinez was baffled at the denigrating words Bonnen used toward other House members.
“To actually call out colleagues individually and to say the derogatory things he did about them, that’s just not something I ever expected to hear from the leader of the Texas House,” Martinez said in an interview following the audio’s release.
He added: “We as legislators, even though we may not agree with people, we do have the freedom to express our opinions. But to do it in that form and fashion to directly attack members of the legislature the way that he did is just something that is extremely disappointing.”
Canales also weighed in.
“I don’t agree with the rhetoric or name calling used by the Speaker, but under his leadership Rio Grande Valley school districts have received an additional $200,000,000 from this past legislative session, which is being used for unprecedented teacher raises and additional funding for full-day pre-K,” Canales said in a statement. “Moreover, under Speaker Bonnen, we were able to pass monumental tax protections for Texas taxpayers, who are drowning in rising property valuations and out-of-control government spending.”
Canales continued: “That being said, of all the places in the world, the Texas Capitol is where I have heard the most racist, sexist, and downright offensive comments. Does that make it right? No, but you have to take the good with the bad. The Texas Capitol is not for the faint of heart or those with thin skin.
“In other words, Speaker Bonnen can call me anything he wants if it means Texas schools get fully funded and taxpayers are not taxed out of their homes. Speaker Bonnen helped lead the charge last session to ensure the Rio Grande Valley got long-needed trauma care funding.”