A mini crisis is brewing at the state Capitol, as a secretly recorded audio tape released by lobbyist Michael Quinn Sullivan reveals that Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen did in fact urge Sullivan, who runs the powerful conservative PAC 'Empower Texas' to use his influence to defeat Republicans who Bonnen felt were insufficiently conservative or may not be able to defeat a Democrat challenger in the 2020 elections, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The scandal has been brewing for months as word of the recordings emerged shortly after the end of the 2019 Legislative session,
The response to the public release of the tape was instant, with several key lawmakers calling for Bonnen to be replaced.
“The Democratic Caucus will hold a previously-scheduled meeting tomorrow and we will discuss this situation then. Speaking only for myself, I personally believe these revelations are incompatible with Mr. Bonnen serving another term as Speaker," said Chris Turner, who is the chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
Bonnen said the tapes prove it was only 'two guys talking politics' but Turner and other lawmakers were more concerned about personal comments Bonnen made about several members, calling one House member 'vile' and cracking about another that 'his wife is sure going to be pissed when she finds out he's gay.'
“Speaker Bonnen’s comments about our Democratic colleagues are disgraceful and unbefitting of the high office he holds," Turner said. "His insults of Representatives Beckley and Ramos are sexist and completely out of bounds, even with the Republican Party’s low standards of the Donald Trump era. Additionally, gay-bashing, homophobic comments have no place in our society and certainly not in the Texas Legislature."
But Rice University Political Analyst Mark Jones points out that many Texans don't know who Bonnen is, and doesn't expect major fallout.
"There is no real revelations that we don't already know, and what is clear is that Bonnen was heavily focused on keeping a Republican majority," Jones said.
But he said this will make life at the Capitol uncomfortable between now and the start of the 2021 session for the Speaker.
"I don't think that is going to be anything in the tape that is going to have a serious impact on his as far as jeopardizing his Speakership," he said.
But the lawmakers, both Democrat and Republcian, that Bonnen asked Sullivan to target will proably have long memories.
One of them is James Talarico, the youngest member of the Leigslature. Bonnen is heard telling Sullivan he would like to find somebody to run against 'that Talarico kid.'
Talarico issued the following statement:
“In my first legislative session, I considered Speaker Bonnen a mentor. He taught me to always put the people of Texas first. But since then, the Speaker has lost his way. He has succumbed to the same extreme partisanship, the same hateful rhetoric, the same political
corruption that he used to preach against. Texas deserves leaders who will put people over politics.”
Democrats are also using the tape to point to their concerns about the fact that Republicans have held total control of the Legislature since 2003, and control over the statewide elected offices for a deade before that. Many observers expect the Democrats to point to the 'back room deals' between the House Speaker and a powerful lobbyist as evidence that GOP dominance has to end.
“When a political party has had too much power for too long, it begins to destroy itself from within," Turner said. "Today, the long-standing, deep divisions within the Republican Party in Texas have been laid bare for everyone to see. While Republicans fight with each other, Democrats are united in our efforts to provide affordable health care for all Texans, strengthen public education and act decisively to protect Texans from gun violence.”