AUSTIN (KXAN) — Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, pledged to protect incumbent Republicans, not campaign against them. Wednesday, the leader of the conservative non-profit Empower Texans, Michael Quinn Sullivan, says he has an audio recording of Bonnen breaking that pledge during a controversial meeting.
The two met during a meeting in the capitol on June 12. Chairman of the Texas House Republican Caucus, Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, joined them.
Sullivan’s Empower Texans frequently feud 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.
After the meeting, Sullivan accused Bonnen and Burrows of providing a list of 10 Republican lawmakers they want ousted in the 2020 Republican primary. In exchange, Sullivan says Bonnen offered media credentials to the House floor. Empower Texans already has media credentials for the Texas Senate.
Sullivan wrote in a blog post, the list included Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, Rep. Steve Allison, R-San Antonio, Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, Rep. Ernest Bailes, R-Shepherd, Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station, Rep. John Raney, R-College Station, Rep. Stan Lamber, R-Abilene, and Rep. Phil Stephenson, R-Wharton.
“Speaker Bonnen and Rep. Burrows must recant their false claims. All of them. Immediately,” wrote Sullivan in a public post, “If they do not, I believe I will be obligated to release the recording—in whole or in part, I haven’t decided yet—so as to set straight the record they have tried to contort.”
Bonnen so far has denied these allegations.
“At no point in our conversation was Sullivan provided with a list of target Members. I had one simple reason for taking the meeting — I saw it as an opportunity to protect my Republican colleagues and prevent us from having to waste millions of dollars defending ourselves against Empower Texans’ destructive primary attacks, as we have had to do the past several cycles,” Speaker Bonnen wrote in a press release earlier this week.
The Speaker of the Texas House is chosen by the 150 members of the Texas House, which is majority Republican. Many look to the Speaker for electoral protection. The position of Speaker is based on the faith placed there by the other members. Speaker Bonnen’s position could be in jeopardy if this tape shakes members faith in him.
This is the first major public scandal of Speaker Bonnen’s tenure.