April 20, 2020

Bonnen Selects LGBTQ Caucus Boss for LBB Seat
after Booting of Target List Republican from Board

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

Outgoing Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has quietly replaced a Republican adversary on the powerful Legislative Budget Board with a Democrat who made history as the first openly pansexual legislator in the nation with her initial election to the Texas House.

Bonnen's appointment of State Rep. Mary González to the highly-coveted post gives the Democrats two seats on a panel that includes three House Republicans and five Senate members who all represent the GOP.

A Lake Jackson Republican who co-chairs the LBB with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, cleared the way for the González selection by removing GOP State Rep. Drew Darby of San Angelo from the board as a veteran lawmaker who'd served on the board since 2014.

Bonnen hasn't said publicly up to now why he decided not to re-appoint Darby to the LBB or the reasoning or behind his choice of González - a legislator who's based in the El Paso-area suburb Clint.

While LBB appointments typically come with formal announcements and significant fanfare, Bonnen could probably assume that the shuffling on the Legislature's budget-writing arm would get minimal attention at a time when the world is at war with the coronavirus. The speaker could be planning to make a public statement on the González appointment at some point soon.

Bonnen's decision to give Darby the boot from the LBB will come as little or no surprise in light of the bad blood that's boiled between the two since the West Texan's name appeared on a GOP primary hit list that conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan had accused the speaker of pitching to him last year in a private meeting at the Capitol.

Darby had been one of Bonnen's chief rivals in an open battle for the leadership position that Bonnen locked up a week after the general election in 2018. Darby popped on the alleged target list eight months later along with nine other House Republicans who'd apparently failed to get back in Bonnen's good graces after his official election as speaker early last year.

Darby, whose most recent term on the LBB expired this year, has been viewed as a major potential contender for speaker since Bonnen pulled the plug last fall on a bid for re-election in his district on the Texas coast in the midst of the furor.

The selection of González in Darby's place could come as a shock - however - to staunch conservatives who've backed legislation that had been regarded as an attack on gay rights.

While González is a highly popular lawmaker who's qualified to serve on the LBB as a member of the Appropriations Committee during the last two regular sessions, the appointment could be controversial in light of the fact that she's the current chair of the LGBTQ Caucus and one of the group's co-founders.

Bonnen's decision to tap González for the influential position is a bold move that could give the GOP a boost to some degree in its efforts to bring more Hispanics into the fold. González's tenacity was evident during her first campaign for the lower chamber in 2012 when she defused whispers about sexual orientation when she announced that she's a pansexual.

The addition of González to the budget board could be viewed as a slap at conservative activist Steve Hotze - a Houston physician who'd led the fight against gay rights in Texas. Hotze filed a lawsuit against Governor Greg Abbott last week as a result of restrictions that he's imposed on businesses and individuals in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

González has been one of the Legislature's most outspoken and emotional critics of measures that have targeted illegal immigrants and sought to curtail the rights of gays and women on issues like abortion and religious freedom.

González joins State Rep. Oscar Longoria of Mission as one of the two Democrats who will represent the House on the LBB at a time when it faces an unprecedented challenge at a time when the Texas economy has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and a simultaneous plunge in oil prices that will leave the Legislature facing a budget crisis of record proportions when it convenes for the 2021 regular session in January.

Longoria is one of the House's more conservative Democrats as a Rio Grande Valley lawmaker who serves as the Appropriations Committee vice-chairman. GOP State Reps. Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake and Dustin Burrows of Lubbock are LBB members as a function of their positions as the chairs of the Appropriations Committee and the Ways & Means Committee respectively.

The all-white Republican cast of LBB members from the Capitol's east wing includes State Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound in her role as the Finance Committee chair along with State Senators Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, Joan Huffman of Houston and Larry Taylor of Friendswood.


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