Republican Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has launched a political action committee to help defend the GOP majority as Democrats push to take the lower chamber in 2020.
Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, has started the group, Texas Leads, with $3 million from his campaign account, his team announced Monday. The political action committee will focus exclusively on reelecting GOP members to the House — a move consistent with Bonnen’s insistence that incumbents do not campaign against one another.
“The 86th legislative session was hailed as one of the most successful sessions in modern history,” Bonnen said in a news release. “What we accomplished would not have been possible without the Republican members of the Texas House who fought tirelessly to get smart, conservative policies over the finish line. If we are to continue building upon these successes in future legislative sessions, we must do everything in our power to reelect the Republican legislators who made them a reality.”
Bonnen’s announcement comes as Democrats, bullish from gains made in 2018, seek to capitalize on that momentum and potentially flip the 150-member House in 2020. To do that, Democrats would need to hold on to the 12 House seats the party picked up in 2018 and flip nine additional seats currently held by Republicans.
Texas Leads is expected to be mainly a fundraising vehicle for now. The speaker’s team said the $3 million was an initial investment, and there will be an “ongoing commitment” by Bonnen to support the PAC. Bonnen’s campaign account took in nearly $4 million last year after he emerged as the presumptive next speaker, and reports due later Monday will reveal how much he raised at the end of June.
As the session wound down, Bonnen emphasized he did not want House incumbents from either party to campaign against colleagues. The move was criticized by a faction of hardline Republican conservative activists who said a GOP speaker should focus on picking up seats for his party — especially ahead of an election that impacts how the 2021 redistricting cycle shakes out.
“The consequence is simple,” Bonnen said at the time. “If you choose to campaign against any of your sitting colleagues, I will weigh in against you. And if I am fortunate enough to be speaker, you will find yourself not well positioned in the next session.”
The Texas Democratic Party framed Bonnen’s announcement as the latest proof that Texas Republicans aren’t taking for granted what could happen in 2020 if the party isn’t prepared for a competitive cycle.
“After our success in 2018, Texas Democrats are poised to flip the state house in 2020,” Manny Garcia, executive director for the party, said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “Bonnen’s new political money machine, which includes groups like Associated Republicans of Texas, is a reflection of the fear the Republican establishment across the state is experiencing. … Democrats are offering solutions, we’re fired up, and we’re ready to take the Texas House.”
Speakers have historically used allied groups to help incumbents from their own party in reelection bids. Bonnen’s predecessor, Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, had groups such as the House Leadership Fund. In a less typical move, he recently began a new PAC, Texas Forever Forward, to support like-minded candidates now that he is out office.
Texas Leads is expected to be part of a constellation of GOP-friendly groups working to keep the House red next year. While some, like Bonnen’s PAC, will not go after Democratic incumbents, others, including the Associated Republicans of Texas, have made clear their priority is to flip back the seats that Republicans lost last cycle.
On the Democratic side, PACs like the House Democratic Campaign Committee are expected to focus on defending Democratic freshmen. Meanwhile, other groups, such as the state party and outside national organizations, are gearing up to play a role in defeating enough Republican incumbents to potentially capture the majority.