State Rep. John Zerwas drops bid for Texas House Speaker

His departure comes amid an effort among roughly 40 GOP House members to draft state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, into the race.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond, talks about his reasons to run for speaker of the Texas House during a Tribune event on Nov. 6, 2017. House Speaker Joe Straus has announced his intention not to run for another term.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond, talks about his reasons to run for speaker of the Texas House during a Tribune event on Nov. 6, 2017. House Speaker Joe Straus has announced his intention not to run for another term.  Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

State Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican, has withdrawn from the race for speaker of the Texas House, he confirmed to The Texas Tribune on Sunday evening.

“I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to engage with the members of the House. The honest conversations are critical to the relationships I have, and I am honored to work with such principled leaders,” he said in a statement to the Tribune. “While I believe that I could lead the House through a successful 2019 session, it has come time for me to end my bid for Speaker and wholly focus on writing the budget for the 2020-2021 biennium.”

His departure comes amid an effort among roughly 40 GOP House members to draft state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, into the race, according to people with knowledge of the meeting who requested anonymity to speak freely. On Sunday night, that group of 40 members was scheduled to gather in Austin to discuss recruiting him for the job. Bonnen previously had told The Texas Tribune in May that he was not interested in running for the top slot in the lower chamber. The Tribune was told Sunday night that Bonnen was not at the meeting.

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On Monday, Bonnen said in a statement to the Tribune that he was "honored that many of my colleagues have met and decided that I should consider running for speaker." Bonnen added that he is “carefully considering their request, talking to my family and others about” whether to run for the job.

“I intend to make an announcement soon about my intentions," Bonnen said.

As soon as current House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, announced in Oct. 2017 that he was retiring, Zerwas filed with the Texas Ethics Commission as a candidate to replace him. Five other Republicans eventually followed suit. If Bonnen files to enter the race, he’d join Republicans Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, Drew Darby of San Angelo and Four Price of Amarillo in fighting for the gavel. Democrat Eric Johnson of Dallas has also filed to run for House speaker.

Sunday night's gathering comes ahead of a House GOP caucus meeting scheduled for Dec. 1, when members are expected to coalesce behind a single speaker candidate ahead of the Legislature convening in January. Prior to this year’s primaries, some House Republicans have pushed incumbents and candidates to sign a form promising to ultimately support the caucus pick. Parker, Price and King have signed the form, while Bonnen, Zerwas, Clardy and Darby have not. The full 150-member House will vote on its next leader on the first day of the 86th legislative session.

Bonnen, who’s been in the House since 1997, is chairman of the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee. His older brother is Republican state Rep. Greg Bonnen of Friendswood.