By Bethany Blankley
Both Republicans and Democrats are calling on Dennis Bonnen to resign as Texas House Speaker as the fallout continues over the released recording of a meeting between Bonnen and Empower Texans’ CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan.
In the recording, Bonnen and former Republican Caucus Chairman Dustin Burrows are heard promising House floor credentials for Sullivan's staffers in exchange for his help targeting moderate GOP representatives during next year's primary.
Many of the Republicans mentioned on the recording were reportedly targeted for voting against a taxpayer-funded lobbying bill. They include Reps. Trent Ashby (Lufkin), Phil Stephenson (Wharton), Travis Clardy (Nacogdoches), and John Raney and Kyle Kacal of College Station.
Stephenson, who previously called for Bonnen’s resignation, said after the recording’s release last week that it was “time to cut the head off the snake.” In 2018, Stephenson won 56.5 percent of the vote in his district against his Democratic opponent and was uncontested in the primaries.
Clardy, a former candidate for speaker who was mentioned in the recording, said Bonnen had done “irrevocable damage” to the Republican caucus.
Kacal, also targeted on the recording, told 1620 AM WTAW that the remarks made public by the recording’s release were “disheartening” and put Republicans “in a bad spot.” In 2018, Kacal won 67.6 percent of the vote in his district against his Democratic opponent and was uncontested in the primaries.
Republicans Reps. Trent Ashby (Lufkin), Ernesy Bailes (Shepherd), Kyle Biedermann (Fredericksburg), Drew Darby (San Angelo), Tan Parker (Flower Mound), Maty Schaefer (Tyler), Tony Tinderholt (Arlington), and Steve Toth (Woodlands), all called on Bonnen to resign.
“I previously asked for the tape to be released so everyone could hear it," Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in response to the recording being made public. "The issue remains in the hands of the Texas Rangers and the Brazoria County District Attorney’s Office,” who are investigating.
According to the recording, Bonnen mentioned Democrat Reps. Michelle Beckley, whom he called “vile,” and that he had recruited someone to run against “that Talarico kid,” referring to Rep. James Talarico of Round-Rock.
In response, Beckley said in statement, "This recent scandal is yet another example of how money corrupts politics; representatives are more concerned with saving their seats and appealing to special interest groups than serving their constituents."
Talarico said in a statement that, “the Speaker has lost his way.”
Republican Rep. John Smithee of Amarillo, who made headlines in August for saying the Texas caucus had a “Texas-sized mess on its hands,” also called on Bonnen to resign. He told his local news station that there were other members with the “character and integrity to lead the House,” and the scandal amounted to a “forfeiture of the speaker’s right to lead.”
Bonnen served 22 years in the House before being elected speaker. If he does resign, he will become the first Texas House speaker in 45 years to have served only one term.
The full House is not set to meet until January 2021. Before it does, Democrats are seeking to flip at least nine Republican-held seats and take the majority. All 150 seats in the state House are up for election.