Who knows if Texas Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen will be ousted after the secret tape recording was released this week of him bashing a number of House members and targeting 10 Republicans in primaries? But he should be.
Bonnen lied about what was said during his meeting with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, and the tape proved it.
Bonnen has diminished or no credibility with most House members after this self-inflicted wound, and that’s not a good formula for leadership in the 2021 session and beyond.
Sullivan held on to the tape for several months and let certain legislators privately listen to it in order to let the issue linger and get more publicity, and his previous descriptions about what Bonnen said were spot on.
That included District 85 Rep. Phil Stephenson, R-Wharton, being on the list Bonnen and his former lieutenant Dustin Burrows of Lubbock wanted to defeat. They were hoping Sullivan and his Empower Texans group would help fund an opponent for Stephenson.
Stephenson and two other state reps on the list have called for Bonnen to resign.
The common thread amongst the 10 Republicans was they opposed a law that would’ve ended taxpayer funding of lobbyists for governmental subdivisions such as cities, counties and school districts. Eliminating taxpayer-funded lobbying is a top goal of Sullivan’s.
Doing that might be a good idea, but targeting members of his own party makes Bonnen look like a big-time hypocrite after he told House Republicans there would be consequences if they supported primary challengers of any incumbents.
What drew the ire of Fort Bend County Judge KP George this week was Bonnen saying on the tape, “Any mayor, county judge that was dumbass enough to come meet with me, I told them with great clarity, my goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the Legislature for cities and counties.”
Then Burrows adds, “I hope the next session’s even worse.”
Then Bonnen responds by saying, “ And I’m all for that.”
The big blow for cities and counties in 2019 came when Senate Bill 2 was signed into law. That limits governmental entities from raising taxes to the amount they would generate more than 3.5 percent more revenue than the previous year without holding an election.
Further, Bonnen alluded to Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, as “a piece of sh—” who “makes my skin crawl,” and then called him “gay.” He also refers to Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-D-Dallas, as “vile.”
But the legal issue in the tape is Bonnen appears to have offered Sullivan’s group press credentials for the House floor that had previously been denied if Empower Texans would target the aforementioned Republicans. That sounds like a quid pro quo (promise of a state resource in exchange for defeating his enemies).
It’s hard to imagine Bonnen and Burrows being any more full of themselves.
Texas House Republicans currently have nine more members than Democrats, and if the GOP holds on to a majority in November 2020, it’s hard to see how they could stick with Speaker Bonnen. If Republicans lose the majority, Bonnen won’t matter.
Perhaps Bonnen will step down before election season so he won’t become more of a campaign issue.
Either way, the Texas House needs an adult with the right temperament in charge, not a petulant, 47-year-old child.
Reach Fred Hartman at firstname.lastname@example.org.