State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, looked at redistricting maps during a Senate hearing in 2011. Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune
The Texas Legislature’s once-every-decade* quest for new political maps will get a twist in 2021: The Texas House will have either a speaker whose trustworthiness is suspect or a brand-new speaker who’ll be riding in the wake of a scandal.
What’s at stake, for lawmakers, is whether they’ll have a chance at staying in office with the new maps. (The process is already underway, as of last week.) That’s how it goes with redistricting and the Texas House: The representatives of 150 political districts decide how to protect themselves and ruin their enemies by moving the lines around. Powerful members do better, on average, than weak ones. Members in the majority do better, on average, than members in the minority. And members who are on management’s good side do better, on average, than members who are not.
Members’ fates are, to a great extent, in the hands of the speaker.
And they are trying to figure out whether Dennis Bonnen, who became speaker less than nine months ago, can be trusted.
Bonnen has been accused of working against some of the incumbent Republican members of the House — people a Republican speaker would reasonably be expected to protect. In fact, he told reporters at the end of this year’s legislative session that he would punish House members who campaigned against colleagues from either party. The news in that — to reporters and to legislators alike — was that he was protecting Democrats as well as Republicans.
But he had a meeting a couple of weeks after the session with Michael Quinn Sullivan, the head of Empower Texans and a regular burr in the saddle of establishment Republicans. Bonnen told reporters in May that the group was beyond appeasement — “and I sure as hell am not going to waste my time trying.”
But he and then-House Republican Caucus Chairman Dustin Burrows of Lubbock not only met with Sullivan, but they allegedly ran their mouths, speaking openly and unflatteringly about other members and — according to Sullivan — offering to give House news media passes to his group if it would work for the defeats of 10 members of the House.