One year ago, I pulled back the cover on the cronyism and corruption that pervades Austin and the highest levels of the Republican Party. In revealing a corrupt offer House Speaker Dennis Bonnen presented to me at a private meeting, I hoped the GOP would clean house – instead, they circled ranks.

The speaker first lied about the meeting, its origin, and his corrupt offer. Then, I mentioned I had recorded the discussion. Before revealing the existence of the audio, I first called the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas – James Dickey. I wanted him to have the chance to listen to it so he could take action without granting a free campaign gift to the Democratic Party. When he took no action, we made the audio available to every Republican member of the Legislature and party officials in the belief that at least one member of the leadership would act.

Instead, Republican House members adamantly defended Bonnen. They excused his slanderous attacks on other members. They excused his attempt to coordinate campaigns of opponents to sitting Republicans. They even excused the lies he told them and the public.

Eventually, under pressure from grassroots activists being applied to those same members, Speaker Bonnen withdrew from re-election to the Texas House and forfeited another term as speaker – the third-highest ranking position in Texas.

At approximately the same time, one of Bonnen’s closest Democrat allies – State Rep.Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) – was caught ferrying cocaine in an official State of Texas envelope bearing his office address. The highest-ranking establishment Republicans in the state were silent. None criticized him; not Mr. Dickey, not Gov. Greg Abbott, not Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and certainly not Speaker Bonnen. None of them called for his removal from the House or even his chairmanship.

Everyone in the Austin establishment protects everyone else in office from accountability, even when they are literally caught on tape – or red-handed. 

And yet last week, in a curious turn of events, a left-wing columnist for the Houston Chronicle teased for several days that she possessed a secret recording of my meeting with James Dickey – which occurred on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. The Chronicle deceitfully implied the recording had come from me or my lawyer. It wasn’t us. (For the record, I only record meetings with people who wield government power, invite me to private meetings, and threaten to use the meetings against me.)

Only Mr. Dickey or the party staffer who accompanied him, Mitch Carney, could have recorded the meeting. It should be noted that Mitch is the son of Gov. Abbott’s consultant, New Hampshire political strategist Dave Carney.

That’s fine; I obviously support Texas’ standing as a one-party recording state.

The meeting went exactly as planned: I told Mr. Dickey of the Bonnen recording, told him it wasn’t good, told him I hoped Republicans would clean up the mess, and even suggested a wide range of people who could ably serve as speaker – including political opponents who are nonetheless honorable public servants. (All of which, by the way, I and others on my team had either already noted or would note in the very near future.)

When asked if he wanted to hear the recording or portions of it, Mr. Dickey declined. I could not understand why the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas did not want to hear evidence of the third-ranking state official engaging in clear abuse of his office, talking about running campaigns against fellow Republicans, and mocking other elected officials. Dickey said nothing of substance, left as quickly as he could, and, in fact, went straight to the airport and left the state. I never heard from him again. Until this week.

Why did Mr. Dickey or Mr. Carney not simply own up to the recording in the Houston Chronicle story about our meeting? Are Carney and Dickey embarrassed by the lack of leadership exhibited by letting Mr. Bonnen off the hook?

If their recording was meant to embarrass me, it does the opposite. I said from the beginning that I wanted Republicans to clean up the mess they created by not taking action against Mr. Bonnen. From Mr. Dickey and Gov. Abbott on down, the elected class of Republicans refused to take action.

What we have learned is that the corrupt, crony culture of the Texas Capitol always seeks to defend itself, regardless of party, against all attempts to clean it. 

Just as interesting is the choice Mr. Dickey or Mr. Carney made about who should report their story. The Houston Chronicle columnist, Erica Grieder, is widely known for her enthusiastic support of disruptions in the Texas Senate several years ago – when she tweeted “down with decorum” as abortion proponents attempted to disrupt proceedings on pro-life legislation.

More recently, Ms. Greider tweeted that Gov. Greg Abbott is “a [expletive]ing disgrace” and a “pathetic weasel.” Interestingly, she was not condemned by the governor, the Republican Party, or the legislative leadership—or even Mr. Dickey.

(In fact, Republican State Rep. Drew Springer of Munster instead responded by publicly offering her a job. “I have a LD opening. Long hrs, low pay, in pink building. Not much of a change.” In Capitol-speak, “LD” is “legislative director.”)

Why did Mr. Carney’s father, Gov. Abbott’s political consultant, think involving a reporter who calls his boss a “[expletive]ing disgrace” and a “pathetic weasel” was a good move? 

Don’t they think reminding Texans of the Bonnen scandal will elevate their frustrations with Gov. Abbott’s mishandling of the economy, which has led to record-busting unemployment levels? Or that they won’t dwell on the governor’s sporadic extra-constitutional orders related to the coronavirus?

More importantly, how does Mr. Carney (whichever one) or Mr. Dickey think it serves the interests of the GOP to amplify the deafening silence of Gov. Abbott and the Republican Party in the face of the unethical actions of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen? Does re-litigating the Bonnen episode somehow excuse their unwillingness to press for the removal of a cocaine-ferrying Democrat?

In the Texas Capitol, lawmakers can offer bribes, abuse power, and even transport cocaine in taxpayer-funded envelopes … they are just not supposed to say anything about any of it. Anyone who talks about it must be destroyed.

We should talk a lot more about it, so we will. There are a lot of questions to be answered.


[NOTE: This article was updated after publication to correct the hometown of State Rep. Nevarez.]

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."


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