When House Bill 1, the base budget, was introduced in the Texas House in January 2011, it eliminated state funding for four community colleges. Brazosport College, which Rep. Dennis Bonnen described as “the hub and center” of his district, was one of the four. Bonnen went ballistic and vowed that state funding would be restored in the final budget: It was.
Saturday night, a plethora of state leaders gathered at Brazosport College in Lake Jackson for a roast and toast of Dennis Bonnen to celebrate his 40th birthday. Bonnen, who was elected to the Texas House at the age of 24, has now served 16 years and is 21st in seniority in the 150 member House. Rep. Dan Branch, Chair of the House Higher Education Committee, served as Master of Ceremonies, and roasters were Brazoria County Judge Joe King; Sen. Glenn Hegar; Rep. Allan Ritter; a svelte Rep. Senfronia Thompson; Rep. and soon to be Sen. Kelly Hancock; and Speaker Joe Straus. Other elected officials in the crowd included Sen. Joan Huffman, and soon to be Reps. Greg Bonnen and Ed Thompson.
There were the usual bald jokes. Chairman Branch noted that Bonnen did not have a gray hair on his head. Ritter referred to Bonnen as the “Tasmanian Devil” of the Texas House, calling him “Tas.” Speaker Straus noted that there would now be two Bonnen’s in the House: “One who heals people (Dr. Greg) and one who rips a path of destruction.” Judge King noted that Bonnen’s parents must be so proud to have raised three doctors (two brothers are physicians and his sister is a geneticist) – and a politician.
The event was wildly successful and raised $300,000 for the Brazosport College Foundation. In appreciation, Dr. Millicent Valek announced the money would be used to endow the Kim and Dennis Bonnen Scholarship. (Full disclosure: Kim Bonnen is an attorney and Of Counsel to Locke Lord LLP).
The Brazosport College funding episode and fundraising roast epitomizes the complex personality and political power of Dennis Bonnen. As noted by the roasters, at times he can be the enfant terrible of the Texas House. Yet, he also has a brilliant political mind and is a superb strategist.Saturday night completed a tour de force for Bonnen. He not only restored funding for his community college in the 82nd Session, but he brought the Speaker and the House Higher Education Chair to the college 18 months later on a Saturday night in August and raised another $300,000 for the college. When the base budget is introduced in January 2013, I suspect that Brazosport College will be in it.