Image: Happier times just one month ago on June 13, 2019. Right to left: State Representative Steve Toth, Republican of Conroe; Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Republican of Angleton; and Kingwood Tea Party Co-Founder James Lennon. Representative Toth attended a meeting in Austin earlier this evening with Empower Texans Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael Quinn Sullivan and one other member of the Texas House or Representatives. At the meeting in Austin on July 31, Sullivan played a tape recording of a June 12, 2019, meeting between Bonnen and Sullivan in which Bonnen offered to allow Empower Texans’ online blog correspondents to obtain press credentials to the Texas Legislature in return for Sullivan’s promise to “lay off our criticism of the legislative session, not spend money from our affiliated PACs against certain Republicans, and—most shockingly—go after a list of other Republicans in the 2020 primary elections.”
Austin and Conroe, July 31 – State Representative Steve Toth, renowned conservative Republican of Conroe, clearly felt shock after he heard a tape recording of the meeting between Dennis Bonnen, the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, and Empower Texans Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael Quinn Sullivan of a June 12, 2019, meeting between Bonnen and Sullivan in which Bonnen offered to allow Empower Texans’ online blog correspondents to obtain press credentials to the Texas Legislature in return for Sullivan’s promise to “lay off our criticism of the legislative session, not spend money from our affiliated PACs against certain Republicans, and—most shockingly—go after a list of other Republicans in the 2020 primary elections.” State Representative Dustin Burrows, Republican of Lubbock, who is the House GOP Caucus Chairman and a close political ally of Bonnen, attended the June 12 meeting with Bonnen and Sullivan.
Toth, who has been a supporter of Bonnen’s Speakership during the 86th Legislative Session, which adjourned on May 28, 2019, told this newspaper Wednesday evening, “The tape recording, which Michael [Quinn Sullivan] played was vile and incredibly damaging. The rhetoric Speaker Bonnen used during the meeting was terrible about both sides.” Toth continued, “Speaker Bonnen said some terrible things about democrats and Republicans in the House.”
Toth confirmed that the “quid pro quo” discussion which Bonnen raised during the meeting occurred at the “16 minute mark” of Sullivan’s tape recording.
A source close to Sullivan who attended two other meetings the Empower Texans Chairman conducted Wednesday night with members of the Texas House confirmed that Sullivan played the tape recording for State Representative Jonathan Stickland, Republican of Bedford, as well. McKenzie Taylor, a reporter with The Texan News, reported on Twitter, “Rep[resentative] Stickland tells me he has heard the recording of the meeting between @MQSullivan, @RepDennisBonnen, and @Burrows4TX. Michael [Quinn Sullivan] has misled no one. In fact, he understated the severity of what happened in the speaker’s office.”
At the end of the meeting, according to Sullivan, as Sullivan reported in Texas Scorecard, the leading blog of Empower Texans, Bonnen left his office in the Texas State Capitol where they met and Burrows read a list of ten (10) Republican State Representatives whom Bonnen wanted Empower Texans and its political action committees to target in return for press credentials for the “Texas Scorecard” blog reporters. The list, according to Sullivan, was 10 Republican Representatives – Steve Allison, Trent Ashby, Ernest Bailes, Travis Clardy, Drew Darby, Kyle Kacal, Stan Lambert, John Caney, and Phil Stephenson.
Bonnen had indicated, according to Sullivan, during the meeting in Bonnen’s Capitol Office that Bonnen wanted Empower Texans to cease criticizing the failure of Republicans during the 86th Texas Legislature to achieve major Republican Legislative Priorities, especially the failure to ban taxpayer funded lobbying, to pass Constitutional Carry, and to pass Pro Life legislation. Sullivan and Empower Texans have been very critical – quite accurately – that Bonnen’s Texas House was largely to blame for those failures.
On June 27, 2019, Bonnen issued a letter to Sullivan, which such letter Bonnen released publicly, in which the Speaker denied Sullivan’s version of the meeting. Speaker Bonnen’s letter follows.
Rumors began to surface about three weeks ago that Sullivan had tape-recorded the entire meeting, however.
Reports about Sullivan’s recording suggest that Bonnen’s conduct may have skirted very close to violating Texas Penal Code Section 36.02, the Texas Bribery Statute, which provides, “A person commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly offers, confers, or agrees to confer on another, or solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept from another: (1) any benefit as consideration for the recipient’s decision, opinion, recommendation, vote, or other exercise of discretion as a public servant, party official, or voter.”
According to a blog post on July 31, 2019, in the Texas Scorecard, Sullivan announced, “I recorded the meeting with Speaker Bonnen because of his history.”
Sullivan explained that he met with State Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, disclosed that Sullivan had recorded the meeting, and asked Dickey “to take action cleaning up the GOP’s messy House.” Dickey has been largely silent about the matter, however.
The pressure on Dickey from Sullivan, Empower Texans, and others to confront Bonnen and House leaders about 86th Texas Legislature failures has been enormous. Already, one candidate, former Florida Congressman Allen West who recently moved to Texas, has announced that he will challenge Dickey for re-election as State Party Chairman at the 2020 Republican State Convention in Houston next summer. West has drawn support largely from “establishment” Republicans who had supported the staunchly unpopular Cindy Asche at the 2018 Republican Convention when she challenged Dickey and lost by an immense landslide vote.
An interesting meeting occurred on July 13 in Temple of the so-called Texas Conservative Grassroots Coalition at the Temple Public Library. The organization had invited Dickey to attend the meeting but one of its leaders turned Dickey away at the door and told him “you will have blood on the floor if you stay at this meeting,” The Golden Hammer has confirmed through several eyewitnesses to the confrontation who have requested anonymity for fear of reprisal. Dickey did leave the meeting.
One person who participated in the meeting, along with numerous major conservative fundraisers and financial supporters of Empower Texans, was Stickland, a darling of conservative activists. The Golden Hammer rated Stickland and Toth as the two most conservative members of the Texas House of Representatives during the 86th Texas Legislative Session.
Discussions have surfaced among Republican Party leaders, particularly in central and north Texas, that Stickland may be a particularly strong candidate for Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, especially since Stickland has already announced his intention not to seek re-election to his seat in the Texas House, which would free him up to be a full time State Party Chairman, if he were to replace Dickey.
Neither Sullivan nor Bonnen responded to attempts to obtain comments from them about this story.