Republican Texas state representative and bank CEO Dennis Bonnen announced on Monday he has obtained commitments from 109 of the 150 House members for an upcoming vote to elect the next Speaker of the House and succeed retiring Rep. Joe Straus (R) in January. And though that list includes 31 of the House’s 67 incoming Democrats (the party gained 12 seats in the midterms) and some of the more moderate members of the GOP caucus, Bonnen’s record should raise some red flags.
Most notable was a 2014 incident when he used a deeply offensive ethnic slur to describe children who migrated to Texas after Hurricane Katrina. During a discussion about school resources, Bonnen — then Speaker Pro Tempore — used the racist term “coonass” to describe Cajuns. After a Louisiana official threatened legal action against him, Bonnen offered a fake apology, saying, “I apologize that my use of the term has distracted from the important issue at hand with figuring out whether the federal government is going to be paying for the education of children coming from Central America and helping us secure the border.”
That same year, he was also part of the Texas Conservative Coalition (TCC), a group of 63 state lawmakers who filed an amicus brief urging the federal courts to uphold an anti-LGBTQ marriage ban. The pro-discrimination argument compared same-sex marriages to polygamy, pedophilia, and incest.
He also chaired a “Select Committee on Voter Identification and Voter Fraud” in 2011 that pushed for a voter ID law which he bragged was the “strictest” in the nation. Though he claimed it complied with federal law, the conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found it disproportionately targeted minority voters, and a federal district judge said that discrimination was intentional. (The law was replaced in 2017 with a somewhat watered down version.)
Bonnen made clear this week that he plans to continue the tradition of bipartisanship in the Texas House, including appointing some Democrats as committee chairs. The Dallas Morning News editorial board wrote on Tuesday that it is “cautious optimistic” about Bonnen as Speaker, “with the emphasis on ‘cautious.'” Given that he voted against a state law that provides free school breakfast to kids, boasted on his 2018 campaign website that he received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association last year, and even listed a 2001 award from Phyllis Schlafly’s Texas Eagle Forum, that caution seems quite warranted.