GOP Caucus condemns Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen over secret recording

GOP Caucus condemns Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen over secret recording
Four Democrats and 13 Republicans have called for House Speaker Dennis Bonnen's resignation. (Source: Miguel Gutierrez Jr.)

After gathering behind closed doors for hours Friday, the House GOP Caucus released a statement condemning "in the strongest possible terms" language used by Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants during a secretly recording meeting with hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.

"Both members violated the high standards of conduct we expect of our members," the statement said. "Their conduct does not reflect the views of our Caucus membership."

Sullivan, who heads Empower Texans, released the audio of the June 12 meeting with Bonnen and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, the former caucus chair, on Tuesday. Since then, 13 Republicans and four Democrats in the 150-member House have called for Bonnen, a first-term speaker who relished in a successful 2019 legislative session, to resign from his post. Burrows was caucus chair at the time of the meeting, but resigned after Sullivan publicly detailed what was said.

The GOP caucus statement didn't directly address the calls for resignation. But it did vaguely refer to caucus rules for selecting a speaker within the party.

"Constitutionally, the Speaker can only be elected or removed when the House is in session," the statement said. "A process in our Caucus bylaws presently exists to nominate a Caucus-endorsed Speaker candidate, and we intend to abide by those provisions accordingly."

On the recording, Bonnen can be heard offering Sullivan media access to the House floor for Empower Texans and suggesting the group go after a list of 10 Republicans during the 2020 primaries. Bonnen also made disparaging remarks about Democrats, referring to one as "vile" and another as a "piece of shit." And he boasted about making things difficult for city and county officials during the most recent legislative session, adding that he'd be "all in" for making the 2021 session even worse for that group.

In the statement, the caucus rebuked those sentiments.

"We completely and fully support the [House] members mentioned in the recording," the statement said. "Further, the views expressed in the taped recording in no way reflect the high regard we have for our locally elected officials."

The statement was released as members, on the tail end of their annual retreat, left the ballroom at a resort in Austin. Most of them declined to comment as they departed the meeting, which was originally scheduled for 45 minutes but lasted for just over four hours.

But soon after, a group of four Republican lawmakers from North Texas — state Reps. Justin Holland, R-Rockwall; Matt Shaheen, R-Plano; Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, and Jeff Leach, R-Plano — issued a joint statement calling on Bonnen "to work diligently to prove to all 149 House members and, more importantly, to the people of Texas, that he can rebuild trust and continue to faithfully lead the House and our state forward.

"If that is not possible, the people of Texas expect and deserve a new Speaker of the House during the 87th Legislature," the members said.

As House lawmakers continue to react to the recording, an investigation instigated by the House General Investigating Committee continues. The committee previously asked the Texas Rangers to review the June 12 meeting, and announced Friday that it had retained three legal advisers — former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas R. Phillips, Democratic former state Rep. Patricia Gray and Republican former state Rep. Will Hartnett —to advise the committee on the next steps once the Rangers report their findings.

“My colleagues on the committee and I have consistently said that any investigation must follow the facts and the evidence without regard to political consideration,” said committee Chairman Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas.