Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan publicly released the audio he secretly recorded of a June 12 meeting with Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) and Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), who was chair of the Republican Caucus at the time. The recording largely confirms Sullivan’s previous accounts of the meeting, including discussions of “primaries to fight in,” the granting of House press passes for the Texas Scorecard (at the potential expense of Quorum Report’s Scott Braddock) and, with Bonnen apparently out of the room, a discussion of 11 specific Republican members, one of which Empower Texans was told to “leave alone.”
Those members were Reps. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio), Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Ernest Bailes (R-Shepherd), Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), Kyle Kacal (R-College Station), Stan Lambert (R-Abilene), Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound), John Raney (R-Bryan) and Phil Stephenson (R-Wharton). Burrows is heard saying that Clardy was “the ringleader” of the group. The other Republican member discussed was Rep. Keith Bell (R-Forney), whom Burrows referred to as a “dumb freshman” who should be left alone. Burrows resigned as caucus chair in August.
Bonnen is also heard making disparaging remarks about Reps. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton), Ana-Marie Ramos (D-Dallas) and Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston). He apologized to the membership in August for saying “terrible things that are embarrassing to the members, to the House and to me personally.” Bonnen previously denied Sullivan’s account of the meeting in a three-page letter sent to the membership.
“My colleagues have always deserved the facts and context this recording provides,” Bonnen said in a statement issued today (Tuesday). “With clear evidence now disproving allegations of criminal wrongdoing, the House can finally move on.” Bonnen described the meeting as “nothing more than a political discussion.” He said the “problem” is that he had it with “that guy,” referring to Sullivan.
The Texas Rangers are continuing their investigation of the meeting. Last week, they asked House members to provide any relevant information they may have.
In May, Bonnen warned members that there would be consequences for campaigning against colleagues if he were to return as Speaker in 2021. During the meeting with Sullivan, Bonnen and Burrows seemed to indicate that the warning was meant for Democrats seeking to oust incumbent Republicans.
“I’m trying to win in 2020,” Bonnen said near the beginning of the recorded conversation. “Let’s not spend millions of dollars fighting the primaries when we need to spent millions of dollars trying to win in November.”
Both party caucuses are scheduled to meet (separately, of course) later this week. Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington), chair of the Democratic caucus, said in a statement that the “revelations are incompatible with Mr. Bonnen serving another term as Speaker,” though he cautioned that it was solely his sentiment and not a caucus position. Turner said the caucus would discuss the issue at its already scheduled meeting.
The first Republicans to publicly call today for Bonnen to resign appeared to be Reps. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) and Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands). Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) told KAMR News that there has been a “forfeiture of the Speaker’s right to lead.” Rep. Kyle Biedermann, who had previously called on Bonnen to resign, said in a statement that Bonnen “created a double standard for all his colleagues and lied repeatedly to each of us.” Biedermann called for “swift action” to replace the Speaker. Clardy told the Kilgore Herald’s James Draper that this “horrible scandal” is “a Republican mess, and I believe it’s incumbent on the Republican House members to clean it up.” Stephenson and Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) have also previously called for Bonnen’s resignation.
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