Michael Quinn Sullivan needs to release the complete, undoctored tape of his meeting with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
Sullivan, leader of a far-right propaganda source and well-funded political action committee, is accusing the speaker of targeting 10 incumbent Republicans in the 2020 election cycle. Sullivan alleges Bonnen and the leader of the House GOP Caucus, Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, gave him a list during a previously undisclosed meeting June 12.
The meeting is not in dispute. The content is, and there are too many things that don’t add up that bring the veracity of Sullivan’s allegations into question.
Making his covertly obtained audio recording of the meeting with Bonnen public is the only way Sullivan will be able to muster enough credibility to prove his charges are not another truth-stretching exercise by an organization that considers House leaders closeted liberals.
Consider that in the 2018 Republican primaries, Sullivan’s organization bankrolled multiple challengers to sitting incumbents, including Bonnen. The result was Democrats gaining enough seats to make turning the lower chamber blue in 2020 a distinct possibility.
Many of the people Bonnen is accused of targeting are people who played a major role in his becoming and having a successful session as House speaker.
Bonnen has served Brazoria County with honor in the Texas House since 1997 and carries a reputation as being honest to a fault. Sullivan is known as an ideologue of questionable credibility.
It should not be overlooked that Bonnen had a historically productive session as speaker this year. The chamber achieved solutions on issues that had languished for decades, school finance and property tax reform chief among them. Sullivan and Empower Texans, conversely, saw most of their pet issues die.
Clearly, someone has an ax to grind here, and it is not the speaker. Clearly, someone wants to remove the people who are thwarting their agenda, and it’s not the person who saw most of his agenda become law last session.
At a minimum, based on what has been said publicly, Bonnen made a mistake in meeting with Sullivan. Regardless of the motivation, the odds of the meeting staying quiet and Sullivan not twisting whatever happened were small, and a politically savvy politician like Bonnen should have known this.
Add to this Sullivan’s propensity for flame-throwing, even with Bonnen having mollified his notoriously combustible temper this session, that the speaker finds himself in this mess is not a surprise to anyone.
Legislators who have heard the recording provided by Sullivan and played in the presence of his lawyer question whether Bonnen is being truthful. That is damaging, to be sure. The only way Bonnen can minimize that damage is to come clean about what was said and by whom, admit to any mistakes he might have made and to do it in front of microphones and reporters.
And he needs to do it before Sullivan squeezes out his next drop of poison.
In any instance of accusations being leveled, two elements must be applied to determine whether those accusations are to be believed — the credibility of the accuser and the amount of evidence provided. On both grounds, Sullivan is sorely lacking.
But Bonnen is not blameless for putting himself in a position of having to prove his innocence. He must act forcefully to preserve a speakership that accomplished more good things for Texans in six months than Sullivan will accomplish in a career.