AUSTIN — For the first time in a decade, the Texas House of Representatives elected a new Speaker and across the rotunda, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, missed the ceremonial first day after attending a meeting at the White House.
“To be very honest, this is a little bit of a weird experience for me. I never dreamed or planned to be in this position,” said the new Speaker, Dennis Bonnen.
Bonnen, a Republican from Angleton – outside Houston, won the role unanimously.
“You will discover my passion for education centers on the fact that I grew up a dyslexic kid in a small town in a time when there were almost no options available to people like me,” he told his colleagues in his first speech with the new title.
He promised to prioritize more state money on public education which will reduce the unsustainable rise we’ve seen in property taxes.
“We do need to spend more on public education. Equally as important is making sure those funds get to the right place, making sure they’re spent in the right way. I believe that Republicans and Democrats are united on that. The solutions may look different but the conversation is going to happen and it’s going to be the focal point of the session,” said state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano.
“We’re going to focus on school finance reform, school finance reform and school finance reform. [Bonnen is] laser focusing in on those big pictures issues and you’re right, if we’re going to get those done, we’re going to have to be very careful in managing our time to make sure we do that,” said state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth.
Bonnen said something else in his speech that had echoes of the bathroom bill that divided lawmakers last session.
“As we all know, the Texas legislative session is way too short to get caught up in things that don’t lead to real results,” the speaker said.
“I think the voters are demanding a meat and potatoes session. I think the Republicans learned their lesson on things like the bathroom bill last year. I don’t think any Republicans want to bring back the bathroom bill,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
“You know a lot of dissension makers lost their election and are not returning to the House. We have people who have been elected who are willing to work together – both Republican and Democrat. I’m certainly in that camp,” said state Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Addison.
Representatives in the House from both sides used words like optimism, a new day and fresh start when describing the 86th Texas Legislature.
In the Texas Senate, there was an unexpected opening to the legislative session.
State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, stood in for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
She said he was at the White House on Tuesday meeting with President Trump and would miss the ceremonial first day.
In a show of cooperation, the governor, lieutenant governor and new speaker plan to speak publicly tomorrow morning at the governor’s mansion about priorities unifying them.
The Texas Legislature meets for 140 days.