In the spotlight of a new investigation by the Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit, a spokesperson for Speaker Dennis Bonnen appears to be defending his behavior as just “politics as usual.”
On Monday morning, the Texas House General Investigating Committee recommended the Texas Rangers begin investigating potential criminal behavior stemming from a meeting with Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan, in which Bonnen made a quid pro quo offer of House media credentials in exchange for certain political activity.
That sort of deal is just “hardball politics,” according to Cait Meisenheimer, Bonnen’s press secretary.
Just hours after the investigation was officially referred, Meisenheimer shared an op-ed on Twitter entitled “Hardball politics isn’t a crime,” perhaps signaling the mentality inside the speaker’s office as the investigation begins.
In the piece, Ross Fischer—who formerly served as the chair of the Texas Ethics Commission and is currently the general counsel to the State Bar of Texas Board—says, “while we can all enjoy watching this political theater play out, let’s not continue with the alleged criminalization of political gamesmanship.” Fischer argues that, using a tight interpretation of a state bribery statute, “backroom political bartering is perfectly legal” when officials do not solicit a “monetary gain or advantage.”
Fischer and Meisenheimer, who has been relatively tight-lipped when it comes to the present situation facing her boss, demonstrate the Austin establishment’s cavalier attitude when it comes to these kinds of backroom deals.
So far, Republican State Reps. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, Phil Stephenson of Wharton, and Kyle Biedermann of Fredericksburg have publicly called for Bonnen’s resignation, while the majority of lawmakers have remained silent.