Speculation over what Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen promised conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan during a closed-door meeting in June ended Tuesday, after Sullivan released a recording he secretly taped during that meeting.
In the recording, Bonnen offers media access to Sullivan’s group, Empower Texans, in exchange for that group’s targeting of certain Republicans during the 2020 election season. Democratic lawmakers have called Bonnen’s words in the recording “hurtful” and “unbefitting of the high office he holds.”
Joshua Blank is research director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. He says the meeting between Bonnen and Sullivan was controversial because Sullivan has been active in GOP primary campaigns, working against candidates he believes aren’t conservative enough. The recording also makes it hard for Bonnen to deny that there wasn’t a quid pro quo arrangement between him and Sullivan. Though it might not have met the legal definition of quid pro quo, the arrangement Bonnen proposed was, at least, improper, Blank says.
“From the political standpoint, I don’t think anybody is looking at this and saying this wasn’t a quid pro quo,” Blank says.
Bonnen’s future as a state representative is probably safe, Blank says, but the likelihood he’ll remain speaker of the House is less certain.
“It’s questionable whether he’s going to have support from some of the moderate, or center-right Republicans in the caucus,” Blank says.
Most Texans aren’t paying attention to the Bonnen scandal, Blank says. But within the political sphere, he says lawmakers on all sides – Democrats, moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans – now have a reason to go after the speaker.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.