Bonnen regrets comments about Texas cities and counties — yet also says urban governments have “run amok”

The skyline of San Antonio, the state's second most populous city.
The skyline of San Antonio, the state’s second most populous city.
Lotus Carroll

On Monday, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen publicly defended — and expressed regret for — comments he made about local governments that were captured in a secret recording released last week.

Bonnen took to Twitter to clarify the point he said he was trying to make when he told hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan during a meeting in June that he wanted this year’s legislative session to be difficult for local leaders — and hopes the 2021 session is even harder.

“I have great respect & admiration for our city & county officials,” Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, said in the 12-part thread. “Understand why I said what I did. I am NOT anti local govt, but I AM a pro-taxpayer conservative. It is the large, progressive, urban local govts that have been working against TX taxpayers for years.”

Sullivan, who secretly recorded the June meeting with Bonnen and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, released the audio last week. That audio largely confirmed allegations Sullivan first made against the speaker and Burrows in late July.

“Any mayor, county judge that was dumb ass enough to come meet with me,” Bonnen said during the meeting, “I told them with great clarity, my goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties.”

Burrows, who at the time chaired the House GOP Caucus, said he hoped “the next session is even worse” — to which the speaker said he was “all in for that.”

Those comments, along with other remarks made by Bonnen during the meeting, have set off a political controversy for the first-term speaker, who was widely lauded during the 2019 legislative session for his leadership. Over the past several days, a host of local officials and House members have condemned the speaker for his remarks, with some even asking Bonnen to resign from his post.

Bonnen on Monday did not address other details of the recording, such as his offering Sullivan’s organization media access to the lower chamber and suggesting the group, Empower Texans, should politically target 10 sitting House Republicans. The speaker’s response also did not include any mention of various disparaging remarks he made about Democrats, though he apologized in August for saying “terrible things” during the June meeting with Sullivan.

In his explanation Monday, Bonnen said he regretted “what I said & how I said it” — though he cast local governments in urban areas of the state as having run “amok” by using local control as cover to pass ordinances of their choosing, such as “permitting homeless camping” and “mandating paid sick leave.”

“The list goes on and on,” Bonnen said Monday. “When [large urban cities] exceed their jurisdiction, the state is obligated to keep them in check.”

Bonnen then listed various pieces of legislation he said local governments actively opposed at the Capitol this year, including a bill to ban taxpayer-funded lobbying. That measure did not pass, but Burrows labeled it as a “benchmark” for the 2021 session during the June meeting that was recorded. Bonnen on Monday also pointed to taxpayer-funded lobbyists as opponents to Senate Bill 2, which was the Legislature’s landmark property tax reform bill.

“It was the taxpayer-funded lobbyists for the big cities/counties who fought to stop us from increasing transparency in the [state’s property tax system],” Bonnen said. “The big cities have had countless opportunities to come to the table & identify solutions that work for everyone. As prop tax issues grew worse & worse, they continuously refused the chance to be a part of the solution.”

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