Secret recording: Texas Speaker offers access for campaign work

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A conservative political non-profit released the long-awaited audio of a meeting between the group’s leader, Michael Quinn Sullivan, Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, and former Chairman of the Republican House Caucus, Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock.

The secretly-recorded meeting with Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen was at the Texas capitol after the 2019 legislative session.

In an interview with KXAN, Sullivan says he released the audio this week ahead of the House Republican Caucus retreat in Austin. He hopes it encourages a discussion to choose another Speaker of the Texas House.

Big takeaways from the audio

The Speaker asked Sullivan to campaign against fellow Republicans.

“If you need some primaries to fight in… I will leave and Dustin will tell you some,” Bonnen said.

Michael Quinn Sullivan’s group Empower Texans often campaign against Republicans they see as not conservative enough. The audio shows Bonnen tried to convince Sullivan to move his efforts away from some members towards others.

“If I still have the same ten moderate republicans who don’t want to help on anything. I’m still unable to do what you and I would want done,” said Bonnen on the audio, “Joe Straus (Bonnen’s predecessor) wanted to govern from here and screw here. I would rather govern from here and screw there.”

Bonnen offered media credentials

“If we can make this work, I will put your guys on the floor next session,” Bonnen told Sullivan on the audio.

Empower Texans has a media arm, Texas Scorecard. The group has media credentials to work on the floor during the legislative session in the Texas Senate, not the House.

On the audio, Bonnen hints that he will grant media credentials to Texas Scorecard, and take them away from a member of the Texas press corps, the Quorum Report’s Scott Braddock.

Republican leaders are worried about Trump’s effect in 2020

According to the audio, the meeting began by Bonnen and Burrows explaining the need for Republican unity ahead of the 2020 election. State leaders are worried about gains made by the Democratic Party in 2018 and worry what President Trump’s down-ballot effect will be – as moderates swing to Democrats.

“With all due respect to Trump, who I love by the way, he’s killing us in urban-suburban districts,” Bonnen said on the recording. Bonnen goes on to say he’s seen polls showing Trump down 15 percentage points in a swing House district, held by Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson.

His goal for the meeting was to get Sullivan’s group to be on the same page with Bonnen’s team as they campaign against Republican incumbents.

Bonnen told press and public he wouldn’t campaign against incumbent House members, then he took steps to do so.

In May, Bonnen told KXAN’s political reporter Phil Prazan he “will not” campaign against another sitting member of the Texas House.

On the recording, Bonnen told Sullivan, “Let’s go after these Republicans.”

Sullivan’s group, Empower Texans, often campaigns against incumbents they deem to be too moderate in Republican primaries.

“We should get rid of some of these people. They are horrible,” said Bonnen.

Bonnen could also be heard describing recruiting a Republican opponent to freshman Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock.

What Speaker Bonnen is saying

Bonnen issued an apology to the 150 Texas House members in August in an email he titled “I’m sorry.”

Bonnen wrote, “I said terrible things that are embarrassing to the members, to the House, and to me personally.”

The Texas Rangers and the Texas House General Investigative Committee announced they are looking into the meeting between Bonnen and Sullivan.

After Sullivan released the recording, Speaker Bonnen released a statement to KXAN.

“I have repeatedly called for the recording to be released because it will be immediately clear that no laws were broken. This was nothing more than a political discussion – the problem is that I had it with that guy. My colleagues have always deserved the facts and context this recording provides, and with clear evidence now disproving allegations of criminal wrongdoing, the House can finally move on,” wrote Bonnen.

Click here to listen to the full audio.

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