It’s no secret that the Republican Party of Texas is in trouble by virtue of its chairman and executive committee whistling past the election graveyard. Since Steve Munisteri left the chairmanship, the party seems to have lost track of the only mission that is truly important: winning elections.
The 2018 election was a disaster for Texas Republicans even though many were reelected. But when important districts and appellate judgeships turned blue, the party leadership had better take notice and make some real changes in its business model. To say that “only a few were lost” is accepting failure. There should have been screams of panic and a clarion call to action. But there were not.
The most alarming recent development is the scandal between Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Empower Texans' Michael Quinn Sullivan, which points to dishonesty and a possible law violation on the part of the speaker.
Bonnen’s temper and strong-arm tactics dominated the 86th Legislature. Certain conservative Republicans got under Bonnen’s skin because they had promised their constituents action on certain legislation such as constitutional carry and property tax reform. Constitutional carry failed, but property tax reform passed, albeit in a form that made it virtually useless.
Just to get an idea about the pressure politicos put on legislators: all local elected officials, except for Collin County Judge Chris Hill, testified against property tax reform. Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape left written testimony opposing property tax reform.
But the stakes were much higher than the open carry and property tax reform legislation.
The meeting held between Bonnen, Sullivan and others became explosive after the events therein were exposed. The audio recording that Sullivan claims to have made during the meeting with Bonnen allegedly shows the speaker as power hungry and a liar who has no business in elected office.
Here is the synopsis of the meeting as reported by the Austin American-Statesman: “At issue is the charge by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a provocative, conservative activist who was critical of Bonnen’s first legislative session as speaker. He alleges that at a post-session meeting June 12 in the speaker’s office with Bonnen and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, who chairs the House Republican Caucus, Bonnen offered Sullivan a deal: Bonnen would provide House media credentials to writers affiliated with Sullivan’s group Empower Texans in exchange for Sullivan’s PAC holding fire on Bonnen and his GOP allies and instead targeting a designated list of 10 GOP House members in their reelection bids.”
That alone is damning to anyone who is the least bit familiar with political maneuvering, let alone ethics and law. However, knowing how law is applied to politicians’ shenanigans is spotty at best.
Here is what many consider the true character portrait of Bonnen: Sullivan reported about what was said in the meeting with Bonnen. Then Bonnen denied Sullivan’s claims and called him a liar. After a properly-effective delay, Sullivan then stated that he had recorded the meeting. He also played the recording for a select group of Republicans.
Then Bonnen apologized for "hurtful" comments he made during his meeting with Sullivan but didn't offer any specifics.
Bonnen cleverly created a poison pill against his ouster. When the appointments were made for the 86th Legislature, he appointed a Democrat, Joe Moody from El Paso, as Speaker Pro Tempore. This means that if Bonnen resigns or is removed from office, Moody will become speaker. That is significant for any committee action between sessions, and especially if a special session is called. Very clever indeed.
Loucks lives in Cedar Creek and is a former Bastrop County commissioner.