The Back MicThe Back Mic: Gov. Abbott Addresses GOP School Choice Opponents, Former Speaker Announces Lobby Firm, Coastline Fight Brews

This week — Abbott addresses Republicans wary of school choice, former Speaker Dennis Bonnen creates a lobbying firm, and Gulf Coast legislators take aim at windstorm insurance reform.
March 3, 2023

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Abbott Addresses Elephants in the Classroom

In an interview with Fox 4 in Dallas, Gov. Greg Abbott continued his defense of school choice reform this session — his preferred method, the Education Savings Account (ESA) — but also turned the rhetorical spear towards members of his own party.

“More than 80 percent of Republicans support [ESAs], including in rural areas,” Abbott told Fox 4 Reporter Steven Dial. “[I]f a [rural] GOP rep votes against this, they’re actually voting against their own constituents.”

That 80 percent figure Abbott cites comes from a GOP primary ballot proposition on the school choice received last March.

Proposition 9 read, “Texas parents and guardians should have the right to select schools, whether public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student.” The item received 88 percent of the statewide vote — 1.7 million votes — with similar levels of support even in rural areas, thought to be the most school choice- or voucher-hesitant regions of the state.

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Abbott further said of potential ESA legislation that a “third party” entity would be tasked with applying “accountability and oversight” to the program and that the program would not cause a loss of per-student funding to public schools.

The governor has thrown his weight behind the issue, touring the state conducting “parent empowerment” events — some with rural or moderate Republican representatives — and setting the table for a high-profile fight in the Texas Legislature and specifically within the House.

Former Speaker Launches Lobbying, Public Relations Firm

Dennis Bonnen, a former longtime state representative and one-time House speaker, announced the creation of a new consulting firm with lobbyist Shera Eichler, a former staffer of the speaker.

The company is named Second Floor Strategies, an ode to the capitol level on which the two legislative chambers sit.

“The end game of the legislative process happens on the second floor,” Bonnen said in a release. “I understand the critical importance of an astute second-floor strategy and look forward to using my 24 years of experience to help our clients be successful where it matters most.”

Bonnen said of Eichler, “For nearly 20 years, Shera’s honest, hard work for the people of Texas resulted in countless friendships and well-earned respect and admiration of decision makers at the Capitol. She brings the same commitment, skill, and connections to our clients.”

Bonnen left the Texas Legislature in 2020 after a recording released by Empower Texans’ Michael Quinn Sullivan exposed him for offering a quid pro quo to the grassroots conservative activist.

This past election cycle, Bonnen served as a campaign surrogate for Gov. Greg Abbott against Democrat Beto O’Rourke.

Bonnen has said he will register as a lobbyist but is not currently listed on the Texas Ethics Commission’s database.

Eichler’s current client list includes Las Vegas Sands, the heaviest hitter in the lobby for legalized gambling, along with Meta, the restructured entity formerly known as Facebook.

Fight on the Coastline

Over the interim, a Texas attorney general opinion found that the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) — the state-sanctioned insurer-of-last-resort for residents on or near the Gulf coastline — may engage in lobbying.

The issue is obscure and convoluted to those who don’t live near the coast, but it’s of great importance to those who do; TWIA sets rates and issues bonds in its directive to provide windstorm insurance to the homes in an area prone to hurricanes and tropical storms.

It fills the gap in an area where most private insurance companies refuse to go or charge prohibitive costs to ratepayers due to the near-100 percent guarantee of a payout.

Last session, TWIA allegedly lobbied against a provision within legislation by then-state Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) that would have moved the entity’s headquarters to the coast; it didn’t make the final version.

This time around, Middleton, now in the Senate, is back with a proposal to specifically prohibit TWIA from lobbying; his version has four co-authors including three Democrats. State Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville) filed an identical version in the House.

The proposals would also relocate the entity’s headquarters to the coastline.

“Windstorm insurance continues to be an unsustainable cost for homeowners and small businesses on the Gulf Coast,” Middleton said in a release.

Lozano added, “The coastal delegation of the Legislature spends most of the interim working on behalf of our constituents who are TWIA policyholders to bring common sense practices to the administration of windstorm insurance in Texas.”


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.