This article is being updated as Republican responses come in.
After Tuesday’s public release of audio that shows Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen engaging in a backroom, quid pro quo offer of media credentials to Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan in exchange for the political targeting of certain Republican members, reactions are starting to trickle in from the members of the body Bonnen oversees. Public comments by House members since the release have so far called on Bonnen to resign.
State Rep. Steve Toth (R–The Woodlands) was the first to react after the audio became public, saying in an official statement, “Speaker Bonnen needs to resign as speaker immediately. Based on the recording alone, it’s clear Speaker Bonnen has not been truthful about his meeting with Mr. Sullivan.”
“This is not who we are as a party. It’s an affront to our system of public service and should never have happened. Republicans must take the lead in reforming the Texas House by replacing the speaker,” Toth added. “Texans will rightly judge us by our urgency and commitment to do the right thing as expeditiously as possible.”
In East Texas, State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler) told the Tyler Morning Telegraph, “The behavior we tolerate becomes the standard we set. The transcript released today confirms that a serious breach of integrity has been committed on multiple levels. Speaker Bonnen should resign.”
“We do not need a legal and ethical cloud hanging over House Republicans as we ask Texans to trust us with their vote in 2020,” Schaefer added.
State Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R–Fredericksburg) doubled down on his initial call for Bonnen to resign, having done so following his listening to the recording privately as far back as August. Biederman told Texas Scorecard, “All Texans now know that Dennis Bonnen created a double standard for all of his colleagues and lied repeatedly to each of us when he was caught. This has proven the worst about Texas politics in a time when we sorely need more from our elected officials. We must take swift action to replace the current leadership and restore the public trust in the Texas House and in the Republican caucus.”
State Rep. John Smithee (R–Amarillo), who made news in August for saying that the Republican caucus had a “Texas-sized mess on its hands,” was also among those calling for Bonnen to step down Tuesday; Smithee told a local reporter that he believed there were other members with the “character and integrity to lead the House,” and the scandal amounted to a “forfeiture of the speaker’s right to lead.”
“I think almost anyone who listened to the tape had to be sickened and disgusted by what they heard,” Smithee told another North Texas news outlet. “It exposed an underbelly of a culture of corruption in Texas politics [that] I think is probably inexcusable.”
Retiring State Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R–Bedford), one of the first to call for Bonnen’s resignation following news of the meeting being made public, was characteristically concise and colorful in his reaction. “TOLD YA!!!!!” Stickland said in a Twitter post.
State Rep. Phil Stephenson (R–Wharton), who is mentioned several times as a target throughout the recording, had previously called for Bonnen’s resignation during the summer. On Wednesday he said it was “time to cut the head off the snake.”
State Rep. Travis Clardy (R–Nacogdoches), who is also suggested as a potential target by Bonnen during the recording, has so far stopped short of explicitly stating Bonnen must resign but expressed on Tuesday that Bonnen had done “irrevocable damage” to the Republican caucus. Clardy stated he looks forward to their retreat this weekend—the first gathering of Republican House members since the scandal unfolded three months ago.
On Wednesday afternoon, State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) released a statement calling for Bonnen’s resignation. “The Texas House cannot tolerate deception from our leaders,” he said. “While an investigation is currently underway, it is not up to the Texas Rangers to decide whether Dennis Bonnen is fit to remain Speaker of the House. Regardless of their findings, I (along with many constituents in House District 94) feel he should resign.”
State Rep. Ernest Bailes (R–Shepherd) stated on Wednesday that he was disappointed in Texas House leadership and “I will not stand for it.”
State Rep.Tan Parker (R–Flower Mound) also called on Bonnen to resign. In a statement he said, “If we cannot honor our commitments as elected officials between each other, I am not sure how the Texas House upholds the trust of the people of Texas.” He added, “We need to restore the confidence in leadership, and I believe speaker Bonnen should resign in order for the House to heal and move forward.”
State Rep. Trent Ashby (R–Lufkin) issued a statement to a local news outlet, saying, “I condemn the actions of Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, and I believe he should step aside so that we can properly begin the healing process.” The statement continues, “The profane language used to blatantly disrespect members of the Texas House through backroom political deal-making is offensive, inappropriate, and should be rejected by every member of the Texas House. Speaker Bonnen’s hateful comments not only betray the trust of his fellow House members, but more importantly the 29 million Texans who expect their elected leaders to serve with integrity, high moral character, and humility.”
State Rep. Kyle Kacal (R–College Station) told 1620 AM WTAW, the release of the recording was, “disheartening.” “It puts us in a bad spot,” Kacal continued. “I serve to do what’s right for House District 12, and we don’t need this kind of drama. Texas is usually above board and does what’s right and that’s what leads this country to its success. It’s a sad day in Texas when we fall to this kind of politics.”
An official statement was released by Kacal shortly after, calling for new leadership atop the House. “While I believe that trust should be the cornerstone of the relationship between a Speaker and the membership of the House, it has become abundantly clear that trust no longer exists,” the statement reads. “Therefore, I believe it to be in the best interest of the Texas House to take action to regain the trust of the body, as well as that of our constituents, and do so under new leadership.”
San Angelo Republican State Rep. Drew Darby said the same, saying, “This has gone on for too long.” “It is time for the House to begin to heal and rebuild trust, and that can only be accomplished when Speaker Bonnen and Representative Burrows are no longer in leadership positions,” said Darby.
A spokesperson for State Rep. Steve Allison (R–San Antonio) told Texas Scorecard Allison stands behind the statement released August 7th for the time being, which reads, “The conduct of Speaker Bonnen and Representative Burrows is too self-evident and cannot be condoned. I would be horribly remiss if I did not speak out against such conduct. It is time for Speaker Bonnen and Representative Burrows to be held accountable for their actions.”
Allison is also quoted Thursday morning in The Federalist, discussing the political implications of the fallout. Bonnen has roughly $3 million in campaign funds dedicated to keeping a Republican majority in the Texas House. Allison suggested those funds may be tainted as well. “‘I don’t see how any of us [Republicans in the House] could take any money from him,’ saying at this point he would feel obligated to refuse campaign contributions if they were offered.”