During the 2015 legislative session, at a closed door breakfast with Governor Greg Abbott and House Speaker Joe Straus, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick would say he felt like they were ganging up on him. Patrick declared he was tired of them “picking on me.” Then during the 2017 session when Patrick pushed a bathroom bill for public schools that threatened the mental health of transgender teenagers, Straus told a Senate intermediary that there was no way the House was going to pass Patrick’s bill. “I’m disgusted by all this. Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”
The Big Three breakfast confabs had dissolved into nothing, eventually ceasing to meet, and the relationship between Patrick and Straus had reached the point where neither spoke directly to the other.
Now Republican state Representative Dennis Bonnen of Angleton is in the position of Straus’s heir-apparent as speaker, having announced earlier this week that he will have more than enough votes of House members to win election when the Legislature convenes on January 8. House members—not the public at large—elect the speaker. So this week, Bonnen and Patrick had a Kumbaya phone call, promising a new future in the next session.
“The incoming Speaker and I had a great conversation today,” Patrick said in a joint news release issued by Patrick’s office. “We’ve agreed to sit down together to discuss the business of Texas and meet and talk as often as practical to have the best session in Texas history. Dennis and I have worked on many of the same issues for years. I know him to be a principled and extremely skilled leader who is not afraid to take on tough challenges. I am excited about his upcoming speakership and I am confident our collaboration will ultimately lead to better and bold policy for all of the people of Texas.”
Bonnen’s statement was positive, but non-committal. “Not only is unity my utmost goal in the Texas House but also my guiding force in working with the Texas Senate. Today’s conversation with Lt. Gov. Patrick was only the beginning of a continued partnership to ensure Texas remains the greatest state in which to live, work, and raise a family. The lieutenant governor and I share a strong commitment to do the people’s business.”
Bonnen and Patrick have clashed in the past on issues such as caps on local government spending and a 2015 proposal to spend $800 million on border security. Bonnen in the 2015 fight said Patrick was “playing games” with the border security money. “For some reason, Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor, wants to bring the same bad Washington, always-politically gaming concepts to Austin instead of solving problems,” Bonnen said.
Yet even as he announced on Monday that he had secured enough commitments from colleagues to assume the speakership in January, he has taken on a conciliatory tone. “Don’t worry about that 109,” Bonnen said in announcing the speaker’s race was over. “All 149 other members are going to be part of this House.”