AUSTIN, Texas - The announcement out of the Texas Capitol came early Tuesday in the form of a written statement.
House Speaker Dennis Bonnen said:
"It is clear that I can no longer seek re-election as State Representative of District 25, and subsequently, as Speaker of the House. I care deeply about this body and the work we have accomplished over the years, namely, the outstanding success we achieved in the 86th Legislature."
Fallout from a June conversation with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, who secretly recorded it, brought about Bonnen's decision. In a tweet Tuesday morning, Sullivan posted:
On the recording, Bonnen made inflammatory comments about several Republicans.
"... after we meet with him the first time he leaves us, I said what did you think of him? And he goes, well, his wife's going to be really pissed when she learns he's gay. I said yep,” said Bonnen about a freshman House member.
During the meeting, Sullivan was asked to target nearly a dozen Republicans whom Bonnen wants defeated in the upcoming 2020 primaries. State Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) was among those on the political hit list. During the session, he voiced concern about how a property tax cap bill could hurt rural communities.
"The idea that I'd be on some sort of a targeted list, smile for supporting the folks back home I found to be certainly unsettling,” said Darby.
Darby voted for the tax cap, and Tuesday said the speaker's decision will also help start a new beginning.
"And I think this provides us an opportunity to come together, and that’s the message I hope every house member is, appealing to the heart, today, come together put aside our past differences, and come together and work for Texas,” said Darby.
Darby was at an oil and gas conference where Gov. Greg Abbott spoke about filling the void left by Bonnen.
"For the next year, I am campaigning, as though I'm on the ballot myself, I’m going to working in collaboration in support of the House members who made his past session so successful I will be working day in and day out,” said Abbott.
Bonnen is a potential ballot box topic that Texas Democrats have jumped on. In a statement Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said:
"This is a victory for transparency and accountability. Texans are tired of politicians, like Republican Speaker Bonnen, who use backroom deals, cover-ups and outright lies to pursue power over everything."
The GOP does have time to do damage control, according to St. Edwards political analyst Brian Smith.
"Now if you go after Bonnen, it doesn't make much sense, but if he was in office, yeah the Democrats were going to use it as a campaign issue and the Republicans don’t need any other noise in 2020, it’s going to be a rough year for Republicans I think here in Texas,” said Smith.
By the end of the week, Speaker Bonnen will also learn if his next stop will be a courtroom. The Texas Rangers have concluded the investigation into his offer to give Sullivan's group media credentials in return for help in defeating lawmakers like Darby. The district attorney of Brazoria County says a decision will come later this week on what she plans to do with the case.