The Texas House Republican Caucus has officially broken its months-long silence on the scandal surrounding Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock), releasing a statement “condemning” the two lawmakers while declining to officially censure or call for resignation.
It was revealed earlier this summer that, during a meeting with Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan, Bonnen, with the assistance of Burrows, offered media credentials to Empower Texans in exchange for the political targeting of certain Republican members. Bonnen also insisted that he and Burrows not be targeted by Sullivan’s organization.
Prior to the audio’s public release, Bonnen and Burrows claimed they did not offer a quid pro quo or provide a hit list of Republicans to Sullivan.
Full audio of that meeting, which was released last week, proved Bonnen and Borrows lied in their repeated denials. It also contained lewd language about several House members and took shots at local government officials, surprising many legislators who are often exceedingly deferential to local politicians in their districts.
The fallout last week led an increasing number of Republican lawmakers to call for Bonnen to step down from his role as speaker, setting up a contentious meeting of the Texas House Republican Caucus during their annual retreat last Friday.
When the meeting began, Bonnen reportedly shocked the room by presenting a resolution calling for his own resignation. This resolution was ultimately pulled down.
Some have suggested that Bonnen made the maneuver with the knowledge that it would fail in the absence of a secret ballot. The ploy gave pause to some members in light of the fact that Bonnen’s political targeting of 10 Republicans was at the center of the quid pro quo scandal.
Another resolution would have instead “censured” Bonnen, but that vote allegedly failed.
Ultimately, the caucus passed a statement in which they condemned the two lawmakers but fell short of saying whether or not Bonnen would remain speaker:
We, the members of the Texas House Republican Caucus, condemn in the strongest possible terms the offensive language used and the statements made by Speaker Bonnen and Representative Burrows during the secretly recorded meeting which occurred on June 12th. Both members violated the high standards of conduct we expect of our members. Their conduct does not reflect the views of our Caucus membership.
The caucus went on to say that they “completely and fully support the members mentioned in the recording” and that “the views expressed in the taped recording in no way reflect the high regard we have for our locally elected officials.”
The statement ends with an assertion that the caucus will “stick to their bylaws,” even though Bonnen and Burrows both planned to violate them, and that they will abide by their bylaws to nominate a speaker candidate before the next legislative session. The resolution did not address whether or not Bonnen should remain in power.
Notably absent was any acknowledgment of the unethical quid pro quo offer at the heart of the scandal, nor was there a call for Bonnen to step down. The issue was left unaddressed, despite calls for Bonnen’s resignation from a majority of the 62-member State Republican Executive Committee, a growing contingent of House lawmakers, and conservative organizations such as Texas Right to Life.
The softened statement, which condemns only Bonnen’s language while not addressing his unethical actions and lies, is not sitting well with the grassroots. Empower Texans invited feedback on the statement on Friday, and the responses show most were not happy.
“If the State turns blue, one reason is because of this lack of action,” Colleyville activist and 2016 Conservative Leader Award recipient David Medlin said on Facebook. “How can they expect us to support them when they stand for nothing?”
“He should resign, but he won’t,” said Brandon Cowan. “Governor Abbott should do the right thing and call a special session to have Bonnen removed … but he won’t.”
“Give him a choice if he won’t resign now we will have you removed from office. Either way Bonnen needs to go [sic] ,” Howard Cassidy added.
Others took to their lawmakers’ pages to light them up for their action, or lack thereof.
“This sounds like accountability is not something we can expect of our elected leaders. It’s safe to say if any of us made such poor decisions at work, there would be consequences. I truly don’t see why Mr. Bonnen is getting a pass,” Ariana Chigani told State Rep. Jeff Leach (R–Plano).
“Ironic that Bonnen, who said “Trump is killing us”, is making it harder for Republicans to hold Texas in 2020,” Ruth York told her State Rep. Mike Lang (R–Granbury). “If he cared he would appoint a Republican Speaker Pro Tem and resign. He is damaging Texas, and thereby the 2020 election.”
She also added that Lang’s offer to Bonnen to allow the speaker to “rebuild trust” over the coming months was “inexcusable.”