Bud Kennedy

In Austin, a new git-er-done House speaker. But is it the same old Legislature?


The Texas Legislature is in session again, but mercifully not for long.

Lawmakers will come home May 27. Watch closely until then, because they’re talking about property taxes and schools.

In Texas, we don’t shut the government down. Instead, we just shut the Legislature down for a year and a half at a time. Trust me — that works a lot better.

If we ever wanted the Lege to actually get anything done, we’d give them more than five months.

That makes it unlikely they’ll both fund schools and limit property tax growth, particularly since that’s like pushing the accelerator and the brake together.

But eager new Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, at 46 the youngest speaker in nearly half a century, says he’s darn sure going to try.

Bonnen has been in the Capitol almost non-stop since he came to college in Austin in 1990, not to the giant University of Texas but as a dyslexic teenager choosing the smaller classroom setting at St Edward’s, a Roman Catholic university founded by the same French priest as Notre Dame.

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The South Congress Avenue entrance to St. Edward’s University in Austin. St. Edward's University

“He’s from this high-achieving family of Aggies” — an older brother, Greg, is a brain surgeon and state representative — “and I think they thought he’d do better in a smaller environment,” said St. Edward’s’ Brother Richard Daly, a Bonnen instructor who still teaches there.

“Dennis was very interested in getting to know what makes the process work,” Daly said.

“He was fascinated from the beginning with how the pieces fit together. Clearly, he’s an energetic member who wants to get results.”

First elected in 1996 at age 24, when George W. Bush was governor and Democrats ran the House, Bonnen moved up by last session to run the budget committee, House Ways and Means.

Speaker Dennis Bonnen, right, greets Gov. Greg Abbott Tuesday as the Texas Legislature session opens. Eric Gay AP

“Let me tell you, he runs a tight ship,” said state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, a committee member and a financial advisor.

“If somebody got off the point or got way off in left field, he’d call them out,” Springer said.

He remembered once when one of Greg Bonnen’s bills was about to pass the committee and Springer kept trying to fine-tune it.

Bonnen’s reply: “Drew, you’ve got the right answer — now quit talking.”

Springer compared Bonnen to the last Democratic speaker, Pete Laney.

“Bonnen’s right of center — he’ll be conservative — but he gives the Democrats or the [farther right-wing] Freedom Caucus credit when they have a good idea,” Springer said.

This session is the best chance to overhaul Texas taxes and government before the 2020 census and 2021 redistricting, Springer said: “I think we all know we’ve got to get the job done.”

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State Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, gets help from grandson Ryan Klick, 10, at the Texas House swearing-in Tuesday. Her son, Don Klick Jr., is in the background. Courtesy photo

State Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, begins the session as one of two newly elected Republican caucus officers from Fort Worth. She’s the caucus vice chair, and state Rep. Craig Goldman is caucus secretary.

It’s old news now, but Bonnen didn’t run for speaker. He was the Republican members’ pick.

“We got together and made out a list of all the qualities we want in a speaker, and then we wrote down who fit that description, and Dennis’ name overwhelmingly came up,” said Klick, a nurse and former county party chairwoman.

”I think we’ll have more positive discussions,” she said.

“It’s just Dennis’ nature — get things done.”

That’s not the Lege’s nature.

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Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.