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New speaker should focus on real needs

November 17, 2018

The drama over the competition to be the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives didn’t last long. In fact, it never really got started. Just days after House Republicans started seriously considering who their next leader might be, state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, ended the discussion. He says he has enough votes to be the next speaker, and no one is saying that he doesn’t. The upcoming vote on the first day of the new session next year appears to be a formality.

The good news for all Texans in this result is that Bonnen did attract some Democratic support. Republicans lost 12 House seats in this month’s election but still have an 83-67 margin in the chamber. Most Republicans pledged their support for Bonnen, but so did 31 Democrats.

Bonnen needed only a simple majority of 76 votes, which he apparently had from his fellow Republicans. But the additional votes from the other party are telling. That means those Democrats either truly supported Bonnen for speaker … or feared an even more conservative candidate.

This vote, like many involving GOP voters or candidates, pitted conservative Republicans against really conservative Republicans. Bonnen got the victory, but it may be hard to figure out how he will wield his power as speaker.

He was a top ally to outgoing Speaker Joe Straus, a moderate and voice of reason in the last session of the Legislature. But Bonnen also got support from 10 of 11 members of the House Freedom Caucus, made up of the most conservative Republicans.

Bonnen is a 20-year House member, so he should be able to realize what happened this month: Republicans kept their majorities in the state House and Senate, but still lost seats in both, and the U.S. House districts for Texas. All statewide GOP candidates won re-election, but only Gov. Greg Abbott had the kind of huge margin that Republicans have come to expect. Republican judges were swept out in wholesale changes in the state’s biggest cities. Texas is still a red state, but the shade isn’t quite as dark.

Bonnen would do well in the upcoming session to focus on the state’s real needs and avoid petty distractions like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s obsession with a “bathroom bill.” The soon-to-be-former Speaker Straus did that in the last session, which is one of the main reasons he’s soon to be the former speaker. But Straus saved Texas a lot of grief with his common-sense approach to governing, and the Legislature needs that again.

The math is clear: House Republicans will require Democratic votes to get some bills through, more so than in the last session. Bonnen should encourage the mutual respect and pragmatism in the House that can make that happen.

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