Last week, members of the Texas House of Representatives, including 17 new Democrats, took the oath of office. We also officially welcomed two new Democratic state senators from North Texas, including my good friend, Beverly Powell.
It was a good day.
In addition to the many new faces, we elected a new Speaker of the House, Dennis Bonnen from Angleton.
I have witnessed Speaker Bonnen in action both on the House floor and as a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, which he chaired. He has a no-nonsense style of leadership and deep respect for the institution he now leads.
During the many conversations my colleagues and I have had with Speaker Bonnen, he has stressed the need for bipartisanship and working together to address the critical issues facing our state, including public education. In his acceptance speech, he reiterated this commitment, as well as not getting “caught up in the things that don’t lead to real results.”
This week, we heard similar assurances from our state’s top two elected officials — Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick — after they were sworn in for their second terms. I was sitting in the audience during their inauguration and I was struck how their tone this year was markedly different from what I heard four years ago.
Gone was Republican red-meat rhetoric on immigration and social issues. Talk of bathrooms was replaced with promises about classrooms and more money for our teachers. They stressed bipartisanship; a talking point that has been largely absent from these two in the past.
It’s apparent that the last election has made an impact on the agenda for the Legislature — at least at this early stage. For now, though, Texas leaders are talking about the issues Texans really care about, including more funding for our public schools and higher pay for our teachers.
I hope that these issues, plus increasing access to affordable healthcare, lowering property taxes and fixing problems in our Medicaid managed care system, will be the focus for the next five months.
Time will tell.