Considered in its 64-minute entirety, the secret recording that right-wing Empower Texans political action group CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan made of his June 12 conversation with Republican Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and now-former House Republican Caucus Chair Dustin Burrows serves not only as the very definition of quid pro quo wheeling and dealing but Exhibit A of everything wrong with today’s politics. This includes deceiving constituents as well as GOP leaders’ backstabbing unwitting Republican lawmakers who might just possibly be more loyal to their constituents and own consciences than lying party bosses.
Despite Bonnen’s statement last spring championing all House incumbents, he and Burrows are heard in the recording pressing Sullivan to refrain from backing far-right challengers against most Republican House incumbents in 2020 primary elections — and that if Sullivan must target House Republicans deemed insufficiently conservative, Bonnen and Burrows have a handy list of “10 moderate Republicans who don’t want to help on anything” and whom GOP leadership would be happy to throw under the bus. Among them: Kyle Kacal, who represents part of Waco and McLennan County.
“Instead of killing each other and wasting a lot of money and energy — and I’m not being funny when I say this — in 2022, if you want to come try and kill me and Dustin and every other person you can find, I would hope you would not feel you should or you need to, but fair,” Bonnen tells Sullivan. “I just think we’ve got to [collectively] get through 2020, guarantee that we try and hold this majority, which, with all due respect to Trump, who I love by the way, he’s killing us in urban/suburban districts.”
Judging from the 2018 election returns, voters in urban and suburban districts clearly have reservations about a rabidly right-wing agenda that in 2017 saw a discriminatory “bathroom bill” that Texas business overwhelmingly and successfully battled. For folks in Waco working, raising families and paying bills and taxes, more fundamental needs exist: Interstate 35 funding, public education, workforce cultivation, work visas (at least to hear builders and road contractors), health care, law enforcement and, yes, a living wage.
It’s easy to see the speaker and his GOP cronies, rather than bravely leading Texas into a new era of conservatism acceptable to coming generations more diverse in ethnicity, race and tolerance, are desperately trying to prop up a moth-eaten tea-party agenda way past any usefulness. The secret recording makes clear GOP leadership seeks to crush the autonomy of cities and counties across Texas while serving as a willing stooge of the deep-pocketed gun lobby, rolling back state firearm regulations. As a Republican once integral in local political circles and now ensconced in business remarked to a Trib editorial board member during Baylor Homecoming last weekend, visionary Republicans should be crafting a new agenda for a new Texas. It’s quite possible some in the GOP recognize this. Bonnen and Burrows do not. Their skullduggery and deceit raise questions about whether they rate holding public office, let alone positions of immense power.