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Texas Legislature 2019

Analysis: Four declared candidates for Texas speaker — and at least one “No way!”

In a political season where people are watching to see who will announce a race for speaker of the Texas House, here's something completely different: a non-candidacy.

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, sits alone before discussion of the property tax bill on August 14, 2017.

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As the members of the Texas House — not to mention the rest of us — try to figure out who all is in the running to replace House Speaker Joe Straus, a declaration of non-candidacy is refreshing.

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, says he is not now and will not become a candidate for speaker. Take him off the list.

One might wonder how to get that kind of an announcement out of an ambitious politician. Bonnen, who’s been in the House since 1997, is chairman of the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee. Seeing him in the middle of a high-pitched debate on the House floor is as reliable as a red truck at a fire — so much so that you can follow him around to find out where the battles are.

It was Bonnen who fronted the House’s counter-proposal to property tax legislation devised in the Senate last year. When Straus announced last October that he won’t seek another term in the House when this one’s done, Bonnen was on most insiders’ early lists of possible contenders for the job.

After he was mentioned here as a prospect, he took the opportunity to cheerfully demand that he be taken off the list.

Not only is he not a candidate, he joked that such talk upsets his family. He’s not in this.

Take him at his word. However, since this is politics and since politics is full of shifting chances, allow him (and anyone else who’s talking this way) to leave a foot in the door.

Remember back in early 2011, when Gov. Rick Perry persistently swatted back speculation that he would run for president? Remember, in May of that year, when he said he might be thinking about it, and then in August, when he got into the race?

Circumstances change, and good politicians are nimble.

The speaker’s race in Texas is in its early stages. Four candidates are officially in: Phil King, R-Weatherford; John Zerwas, R-Richmond; Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound; and Eric Johnson, D-Dallas. That gives them a jump on other entrants, allowing them to raise and spend money and to talk openly about what they would do if given the keys to the corner office. It also exposes them as targets and as crash-test dummies. Targets because other contestants can see what they’re saying and figure out how to attack it. Crash-test dummies because they’re most likely to discover obstacles before others enter the race.

However they fare, it’s safe to say there will be more candidates before this gets down to a handful of front-runners. And, at the risk of flushing out other Dennis Bonnens, here are some of the people who’ve either expressed interest or who have been mentioned by other members of the House — the folks who’ll be voting in this particular election:

Get accustomed to the caveats: Other members are interested and haven’t made it known. Some on the list, like Bonnen, won’t go forward. They have to take care to stay within the rules — the so-called “speaker statute” that describes campaign finance and candidacy laws for this race. But they have some room, since that particular law has been on the books for decades and nobody has ever officially been accused of violating it.

Even if he’s not the race, Bonnen will be a player in the contest. He’s got that habit of being in the middle of things. And he’s one of a very small number of House members with experience in this kind of race. He was on hand when a change in the House majority upended Democrat Pete Laney of Hale Center and put Tom Craddick, R-Midland, on the dais. And he was there when Straus challenged Craddick six years later.

For now, take Bonnen out of the center ring, but remember: He’s still in the circus.

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86th Legislative Session Dennis Bonnen Joe Straus Texas House of Representatives