Two of the state’s top Republican leaders have come under fire this week as new yet contradictory details were released regarding a meeting between the lawmakers and a conservative grassroots leader.
Yesterday, Texas Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) released a statement denying the claims made by conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan that he gave Sullivan a list of 10 GOP incumbent House members to target in 2020. Bonnen has previously stated publicly he would not campaign against any sitting member of the House.
In return for the political favor, Sullivan alleges that his agreement would have resulted in the speaker granting press passes to his organization — essentially accusing the sitting Speaker of the Texas House of offering a “quid pro quo” deal to a political group.
Bonnen, however, disputes this, claiming, ”the true nature of my conversation with Michael Quinn Sullivan somehow continues to get lost in the media narrative.”
“Let me be clear. At no point in our conversation was Sullivan provided with a list of target Members.”
However, Sullivan’s account does not assert that Bonnen was the one to divulge the list.
Sullivan stipulated that Bonnen left the room towards the end of the meeting and that Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) then read Sullivan the list of state representatives they wanted Sullivan’s group to challenge.
This comes in light of an apparent bylaw change within the Texas House Republican Caucus this past legislative session; one that would potentially allow for a member to be ousted from the caucus if they chose to actively campaign against a fellow Republican incumbent.
Specifically, this section prohibits members from financially supporting or campaigning for the opponent of another caucus member. The penalty for engaging in such activity may result in “referral to the Executive Committee for investigation or action, including curative action or recommendation of fine, suspension, or revocation of membership of any member.”
Furthermore, the new bylaws suggest that even assisting in a campaign against another member would be potential grounds for punishment.
According to multiple state representatives who spoke to The Texan on background, the language for this controversial addition made some members “uncomfortable” and was deliberated over multiple months during the course of the legislative session. The language was later sent to a working group in an attempt to reach a consensus.
These reports indicate that the measure was finally passed in a fairly quick manner, without a record vote, towards the end of the legislative session.
As chairman of the Republican caucus, Burrows directly oversaw the adoption of this new language.
The measure was reportedly carried and pushed by Rep. John Raney (R-College Station), one of Bonnen’s alleged targets.
Burrows serves in two influential capacities in the legislature, serving as the chairman of both the House Republican Caucus and the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
With the exception of a tweet citing legislative successes for veterans, the Lubbock lawyer has maintained radio silence since the publishing of Sullivan’s account. However, Bonnen has come to his defense saying he requested Burrows attend the meeting in order to serve as “a witness to our conversation.”
However, Bonnen simultaneously stated that he asked his witness “not to comment on this matter because this was an attack by Sullivan on me as the Speaker.”
Bonnen went on to say he wanted the opportunity to communicate directly with the caucus members himself, which he did in an email sent to members on Friday. In the email, Bonnen attempted to reassure the members of his loyalty, stating, “I look forward to vigorously campaigning and supporting every one of you in both the upcoming primary and general elections.”
Continuing the volley of contradictory “he said, he said” statements, Sullivan released a rebuttal of his own in response to Bonnen. In it, he lists three questions that should be “put” to Burrows, including whether Burrows would dispute whether Bonnen said, and Sullivan uses quotes here, that “[Burrows] will show you the list.”
Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-Shepherd), one lawmaker listed in Sullivan’s piece, made waves when he voiced his discontent on Monday regarding Burrows’ actions as chairman. However, House members have, by and large, collectively battened down the hatches and refrained from commenting on the scuttlebutt.
“I had one simple reason for taking the meeting,” said Bonnen in his media statement, contradicting Sullivan’s account which said he was invited by the speaker himself. “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.”
It’s uncertain whether any new details will make clear what actually happened between the elected leader and the activist, or if more information will only continue to muddy the waters.
UPDATE: Since publishing, Michael Quinn Sullivan has announced that he recorded his conversation with Speaker Bonnen and Chairman Burrows, but he has yet to publicly release the recording. Sullivan did invite “Republican legislators, party officials, and conservative movement leaders who may feel they are impacted” to come listen to the recording at their office with Sullivan’s lawyer present.
Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) told The Texan that he has listened to the aforementioned recording, and stated, “Michael has misled no one. In fact, he understated the severity of what happened in the speaker’s office.”
Below is a copy of the Texas House Republican Caucus bylaws (see sections 7.09-7.11 for reference):
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McKenzie Taylor serves as Interim Editor and resident plate-spinner for The Texan. Previously, she worked as State Representative Kyle Biedermann’s Capitol Director during the 85th legislative session before moving to Fort Worth to manage Senator Konni Burton’s campaign. In her free time, you might find her enjoying dog memes, staring at mountains, or proctoring personality tests.