Four retirements, inter-party scandal: a bad week for Texas Republicans

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Republicans in Texas struggled through this week. political operatives and elected officials grappled with a series of high-profile gut punches.

Three incumbent Republican Congressmen announced they will not seek re-election in 2020. Another well-respected state lawmaker also said he’ll move on to another post in the state government. Then, there’s the ongoing scandal with Texas Speaker of the House and a leader of a conservative political non-profit.

Retirements

“One of the things I’ve told folks all along is when I’m no longer in a leadership position I’m coming home,” said Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Midland. For him, life in the U.S. House minority just isn’t worth the grind; especially in 2019.

“As anybody who’s worth a salt will argue, the partisanship has become too intense. It’s become too much about putting on the jersey than the issues we have at hand,” said Rep. Conaway.

In perhaps the most shocking retirement, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, announced he’ll retire as well. Hurd joined Fort Bend Congressman Pete Olson to walk away from a tough slog of a race, in a changing, more democratic District.

Then on the state level, Chairman of the Texas House Committee on Appropriations John Zerwas, R-Richmond, announced he was retiring as well, moving to a post at the University of Texas Health Systems. Zerwas’s house district is in the footprint of Congressman Olson’s district, part of Fort Bend County, now considered an intense battleground between Republicans and Democrats.

All four identify more with the George Bush-style of Republicans that are frankly, making room for the more blue-collar populism of President Trump.

“I don’t know if this would naturally occur were President Trump no the President. But he has reshaped the Republican Party,” said publisher of the Quorum Report and longtime political watcher Harvey Kronberg.

Kronberg says the last major turnover in Congress came in the early 90s, when Texas moved from majority Democrat to Republican.

“Some got beat. Some retired. You lost, some people would say you lost several centuries of political seniority by the number of Democrats that were displaced with Republicans. And we may face the same phenomenon in reverse this time,” said Kronberg.

Late this afternoon, the Texas House Democratic caucus received $100,000 from the national democratic group trying to flip seats. They are only 9 seats away from taking the Texas House.

Texas House scandal

The retirements come at a time when the Republican Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, is embroiled in an inner-party scandal.

Wednesday, the leader of the conservative non-profit Empower Texans, Michael Quinn Sullivan, said he has an audio recording of Bonnen offering a quid-pro-quo, media credentials for Sullivan’s group in exchange for targeting ten House incumbent members.

Sullivan’s Empower Texans frequently feuds with Republican leadership — during both Speaker Bonnen’s tenure and his predecessor, former Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio — over the political direction of the Republican Party. The well-funded political arm of Empower Texans often campaigns against Republican incumbents they see as not conservative enough.

Speaker Bonnen says he met with Sullivan to make amends and has denied these allegations.

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