Members of the Texas House continue to sound off after listening to the audio recording of the meeting between Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan and Speaker Dennis Bonnen, in which Bonnen made a quid pro quo offer of House media credentials in exchange for certain political activity.
State Reps. Jonathan Stickland (R–Bedford), Phil Stephenson (R–Wharton), and Kyle Biedermann (R–Fredericksburg) have called for Bonnen’s resignation, with Biedermann saying last week, “I believe the healing process for the House will only begin with an honest statement from Speaker Bonnen and his resignation, not drawn out political theater in the House General Investigating Committee.”
Now other lawmakers are issuing strong statements of their own.
On Tuesday, State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler) posted the following statement after the Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit began an investigation into the allegations:
The recent events involving Speaker Bonnen, Representative Burrows, and Michael Quinn Sullivan are very disappointing. Speaker Bonnen has requested forgiveness regarding the embarrassing and hurtful things that were said during his meeting with Michael Quinn Sullivan and Representative Burrows. He has my forgiveness regarding the content of his apology. Speaker Bonnen has also expressed a sincere desire to rebuild trust, but serious issues linger. I have heard the recording of the MQS meeting. In my mind there are two critical matters that remain.
First, the simple truth is that the offer made by Speaker Bonnen to Michael Quinn Sullivan regarding media credentials for the Texas House floor appears to be unethical. The House General Investigating committee has referred this matter to the Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit. I trust the committee and the Texas Rangers will begin with the constitutional presumption due all citizens, follow the facts, and reach a just conclusion. However, legality is a separate question from propriety, and Speaker Bonnen and House members must address this according to the high standards of conduct required for the office of Speaker.
Second, in response to MQS’s account of the meeting, two emails were sent by Speaker Bonnen to House members and subsequently became public. In tone and in substance these emails were intended to allay members’ concerns, and to ‘set the record straight.’ But parts of those emails were misleading, while other parts were blatantly false. The offer of media credentials and the discussion about targeting certain Republican members were omitted. The emails were not a truthful response. Speaker Bonnen has the challenge of finding a way to correct the record plainly.
Elected officials owe a duty to the citizens of Texas to safeguard the public trust. Accountability and integrity are essential, and ensuring those two elements are in place is the task at hand. Legal clouds over the Texas House may remain for some time, yet the business of Texas is now. We all need to pray for wisdom. I am praying for Speaker Bonnen and for the whole House. My prayer is that moral and ethical considerations will always outweigh political considerations, and that God will clearly show us where one starts, and the other ends.
Schaefer joins other lawmakers, including State Reps. Steve Toth (R–The Woodlands), Tan Parker (R–Flower Mound), and Travis Clardy (R–Nacogdoches), in issuing strong rebukes after hearing the recording.
Despite an open invitation from Sullivan, however, most Republican lawmakers have not yet listened to the audio.