Beginning tomorrow, the Texas House Republican Caucus will begin voting on a new vice chair. The results of the in-caucus election for the post will demonstrate for Texans whether House Republicans are willing to continue condoning the corruption within their ranks or coalesce around confronting it.
Last month, Republican State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R–Lubbock) was forced to resign his position as the head of the GOP Caucus following revelations he and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen made a quid pro quo offer of media credentials to Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan.
At the heart of what may include criminal charges for those involved was an effort to have Empower Texans do the political bidding of Team Bonnen, targeting certain Republican members, while Bonnen and Burrows maintained a public posture of camaraderie for incumbents in the Capitol.
State Rep. Stephanie Klick (R–Fort Worth), who formerly served as the vice chair of the caucus, took over after Burrows’ resignation, leaving her former post empty and requiring an election to fill it.
Despite a large group of Republican lawmakers demanding an in-person meeting to conduct the election, Klick denied the request, instead stating that the election would be held electronically.
Barring further developments, caucus members will begin voting tomorrow.
A few potential candidates have emerged to fill the spot, but only one is backed by Bonnen and his leadership team: State Rep. Jim Murphy.
A five-term Republican state lawmaker from Houston, Murphy is a “general manager” and “consultant” for the Westchase District, a special purpose district that partially overlaps with House District 133, which he represents in the Texas House.
An investigation by Houston’s KPRC in 2018 revealed Murphy draws a salary of $312,000 annually from the district with available bonuses if he is successful in securing additional state funding. While state law prohibits state lawmakers from holding taxpayer-funded jobs, Murphy skirts this by claiming to be a mere contractor.
Murphy has also climbed the ranks in Austin, serving as the Texas GOP floor leader for the most recent legislative session. The year prior, he held other positions and was on the board of the Texas House Leadership Fund.
Unlike other candidates campaigning within the caucus for the position, Murphy has been an aggressive defender of Bonnen throughout the emerging scandal—even defending Bonnen and Burrows in an interview with Dallas Morning News.
“The focus of the meeting was the 2020 elections and to have Empower Texans stop funding races against Republicans,” Murphy told the media outlet after hearing the recording. “Speaker Bonnen [and] Chairman Burrows made that point multiple times to bring the meeting back to the focus of the meeting: the 2020 elections.”
“The speaker made it very clear that he did not want his organization targeting Republican incumbents in primaries,” he added.
That testimony doesn’t square up with Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan’s claims Burrows and Bonnen tried to entice him to work against certain Republican incumbents in their primary elections in exchange for media credentials. It also doesn’t square with other accounts any individual has made since hearing the recording, all of which corroborate Sullivan’s account.
If Murphy is willing to misrepresent the truth on serious allegations and potential crimes, what issues can caucus members trust him to faithfully represent their interest on?
Will they continue to back Bonnen and Burrows in spite of the overwhelming evidence, or will they send a signal they’re willing to hold them accountable?