The Dallas Morning News

HOUSE SPEAKER Dennis Bonnen encountere­d at a GOP fundraiser the gun rights activist who had gone to his home.

Tensions flare after pair were seated near each other at GOP fundraiser

- By PATRICK SVITEK Texas Tribune

A Texas GOP fundraiser Tuesday brought state House Speaker Dennis Bonnen facetoface with the gun rights activist whom state troopers recently intercepte­d at Bonnen’s home, the latest chapter in sharp tensions between the two.

“It was a setup,” Bonnen told the Texas Tribune in an interview Wednesday evening, saying the activist, Chris Mcnutt, was seated close to Bonnen and appeared prepared for an encounter with him.

After a confrontat­ion with Mcnutt and others in his group, Bonnen left the closeddoor event early, before his scheduled speaking slot.

The incident illustrate­d the stillflari­ng tensions from a couple of weeks ago when officers with the Department of Public Safety met Mcnutt outside Bonnen’s home while the speaker was in Austin.

The troopers had already been monitoring Bonnen’s home after Mcnutt visited homes of other lawmakers whom he has blamed for inaction on “constituti­onal carry” legislatio­n that would allow Texans to carry guns without a permit. Bonnen accused Mcnutt of intimidati­on tactics, and the revelation of the home visits dealt a death blow to the constituti­onal carry push at the Capitol.

The latest incident unfolded Tuesday evening inside the JW Marriott hotel in downtown Austin, where the state Republican party was holding its annual spring fundraisin­g dinner. The headliners were Bonnen, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Mcnutt was invited to the fundraiser by Darlene Pendery, a top Republican donor who had purchased three VIP tables to fill with 30 guests. She said she invited Mcnutt and Bonnen before the controvers­y surroundin­g Mcnutt’s travel to lawmakers’ homes.

Mcnutt did not respond to requests for comment, but both Bonnen and Pendery offered detailed accounts of the evening. Pendery said it was a “horrible night” marked by Bonnen looking for a fight and losing his cool; the speaker said it was Mcnutt who took it too far, well aware of the situation he was creating.

Bonnen said he first learned about Mcnutt’s attendance at the fundraiser earlier in the day when some fellow lawmakers gave the speaker a headsup that the activist would be there and might try to confront him. Bonnen said he then inquired about the situation with organizers and was assured he would not be seated with Mcnutt.

Bonnen nonetheles­s ended up seated backtoback with Mcnutt — at the table next to his, the speaker said. As the dinner was getting underway, Bonnen said he walked up to Mcnutt, tapped him on the shoulder and shook his hand.

“’Hi, I’m Dennis Bonnen,’ I said,” the speaker recalled. “’You should never go to my residence or any member of the Legislatur­e’s residence when you know they’re in Austin doing their job. I want you to tell me you’re never gonna do that again.’”

Pendery said the initial interactio­n was not so innocent, with Bonnen appearing “out of nowhere” and confrontin­g Mcnutt and raising his voice while the activist was trying to eat his salad.

In any case, Mcnutt remained quiet while the speaker talked to him, according to both Bonnen and Pendery. Then, Bonnen said, Mcnutt handed the speaker an envelope with a letter personally addressed to him. Bonnen said he took the letter and expressed some gratitude to Mcnutt, saying the letter was an appropriat­e way to advocate for an issue as opposed to going to lawmakers’ residences.

That was not the end of it, though. In Bonnen’s telling, something strange then happened: An unidentifi­ed man seated next to Mcnutt handed the speaker a Koolaid packet. Bonnen said he tossed the packet on the table, prompting the man to stand up and threaten a “physical altercatio­n.” The man, Bonnen said, “kinda got in my face and said, You should just leave.’ ”

While Bonnen did not identify the man, Pendery said another one of her guests, David Wylie, stood up and tried to defuse the situation. But ultimately Wylie “urged [Bonnen] to leave after several attempts to reason with him,” Pendery said.

“I’m the speaker of the House,” Bonnen said. “I don’t need to be in that type of confrontat­ion. So I left.”

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DENNIS BONNEN

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