Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, a Republican, urged a conservative activist to target members of his own party ahead of the 2020 primaries and used explicit language to discuss Democratic lawmakers in the state, according to a secretly recorded audiotape released Tuesday.
The hour-long audio was made public by Michael Quinn Sullivan, chief executive of far-right advocacy group Empower Texans, who reportedly recorded a meeting between himself, Bonnen and Rep. Dustin Burrows in June. It is not clear if the audio has been edited, though in separate Tuesday statements, neither Bonnen nor Burrows questioned its validity.
Facing allegations that he had offered Sullivan a quid pro quo to help take down certain Republicans in the 2020 primaries, Bonnen said Tuesday the long-rumored audio recording actually cleared him of any wrongdoing.
"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," Bonnen wrote. "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."
But for local Democrats, the audio in no way absolved the speaker and spurred numerous calls for his resignation. A transcript of the recording published by the Dallas Morning News suggests Bonnen offered Sullivan and Empower Texans media credentials for the House floor if they helped him defeat GOP members who do not align with his views.
"I just think we've got to get through 2020, guarantee if we try and hold this majority - which, with all due respect to Trump, who I love by the way - he's killing us in the urban-suburban districts," Bonnen says in the recording, according to the transcript. "If we can make this work, I'll put your guys on the floor next session."
Bonnen repeatedly expressed concerns about maintaining Republican control in the House, where Democrats need to flip nine seats to gain the majority. Empower Texans has accused House Republicans of not being conservative enough, according to the Morning News, and previously provided funds to challengers of GOP incumbents. In the meeting, Bonnen asked Sullivan to fund and support certain GOP candidates over others.
He also railed against House Democrats including Houston Rep. Jon Rosenthal, who called a "piece of [expletive]" that "makes his skin crawl," according to the transcript. The speaker also called Rep. Michelle Beckley, of Carrollton, "vile" and later said Dallas County Rep. Ana Marie Ramos is "awful."
Beckley, who was mentioned at least seven times in the meeting, said Tuesday that Bonnen must resign. Beckley defeated incumbent GOP Rep. Ron Simmons in 2018, a year that saw Texas Democrats pick up 12 seats from Republicans. It was indicative of a continued shift since 2010, when Republicans in Texas earned 101 out of 150 House seats for a commanding supermajority.
Since then, however, nearly all Districts represented by the Texas House are becoming bluer, Beckley said in an interview. She added that Bonnen's recorded conversation with Sullivan was a clear indicator that Republicans in the state are "afraid" of her and other Democrats seeking to flip the House next year.
"I am what they most fear, that is my biggest take on the entire thing," Beckley said Tuesday. "On the name-calling, my feelings aren't hurt - I think this shows there are a bunch of scared men in the Republican Party. That's my take there."
Beckley said the recording revealed a "blatant" quid pro quo in addition to other ethics violations by Bonnen. In August, state lawmakers asked the Texas Rangers to investigate allegations surrounding the meeting when Sullivan claimed he was offered a quid pro quo, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Rep. Chris Turner, chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement that Bonnen's remarks about Democrats were "disgraceful and unbefitting of the high office he holds" and had no place in the Texas legislature. Turned specifically cited Bonnen's reported remarks on Reps. Beckley and Ramos which he called "sexist and completely out of bounds, even with the Republican's low standards of the Donald Trump era."
"When a political party has had too much power for too long, it begins to destroy itself from within," Turner, of Grand Prairie, wrote Tuesday. "Today, the long-standing deep divisions within the Republican Party in Texas have been laid bare for everyone to see."
The Democratic Caucus will discuss the situation further during a meeting on Wednesday, he said.
"Speaking only for myself, I personally believe these revelations are incompatible with Mr. Bonnen serving another term a speaker," Turner added.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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