Dennis Bonnen is ready to move on.
A year and a half after Republican lawmakers in Texas failed to force through a anti-trans “bathroom bill” in a special session, the incoming Speaker of the House suggested another push isn’t on the table for 2019.
After he was unanimously tapped to replace retiring Joe Straus, Bonnen told colleagues he would not get “caught up in things that don’t lead to real results.”
In a Tuesday speech, the longtime House lawmaker said he was focused on four key issues for the nascent legislative session. Bonnen’s top priority is funding the state’s ailing public school system, which ranked 40th in the country in a 2018 report from Education Week.
“My passion for education centers on the fact that I grew up a dyslexic kid in a small town at a time when there were almost no options available to students like me,” the conservative claimed.
Bonnen also hopes to tackle sex trafficking, school safety, and property tax reform.
While the 46-year-old did not specially mention the thwarted Senate Bill 6, he expanded on those comments in an interview with the Dallas Morning News. Bonnen referred to the “bathroom bill” discussion as a distraction.
“I would be very discouraged if we were distracted by an issue that could derail those significant challenges that we need to solve,” he said.
Those comments fall in line with remarks made by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last year. The Republican said taking up the issue of transgender restroom use is “not on [his] agenda” in the 2019 session following reports he privately opposed SB 6.
Even Dan Patrick, who was formerly its most vocal champion, suggested he was done with SB 6. In a Wednesday news conference with Bonnen and Abbott, the Texas Tribune reported the lieutenant governor repeated “comments he… previously made about winning public opinion on the issue even if the legislation did not pass.”
That claim is dubious at best. A June 2017 poll from the Tribune found that 47 percent of Texans agreed with Bonnen that the question of where transgender people go to the bathroom isn’t a legitimate concern.
But as the legislative session convenes Wednesday for a 140-day session, washing his hands of SB 6 is also strategic for Bonnen. He will now preside over a House that is far more Democratic than during the 2017 term: The Blue Wave led to a 12-seat pickup in the lower chambers of the Texas Legislature.
Addressing members of the Texas House, Bonnen urged lawmakers to come together across partisan divides to tackle the issues voters care about.
“Unlike Washington, Texas stands apart,” he claimed. “We lead the nation by doing things our way. And we do it with strength, unity, and resolve. We will once again rise to that occasion and serve as the nation’s model for effective governance.”
Moving forward from SB 6 may be easier said than done, however. The bill’s author, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), has already vowed to try again in 2019. At a September forum hosted by the right-wing group Texas Values, she referred to “men in women’s bathrooms” as the “women’s rights issue of our time.”
“The only way that you fail is to not try,” Kolkhorst said of introducing another version of the legislation.