Politics is ugly, and Brazoria County voters should get ready to taste the mud.
When our hometown state representative became Speaker of the House, anyone should have guessed Speaker Dennis Bonnen would become target No. 1 for political enemies. Few would have guessed after Bonnen’s hugely successful first session with the gavel, though, that the biggest threat to his political career would come from his own mouth, via political operative Michael Quinn Sullivan.
Sullivan still hasn’t released the tape he secretly recorded of a meeting with Bonnen and State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R, Lubbock. He claims it proves Bonnen promised press credentials for the Texas Scorecard site backed by Empower Texans in exchange for Sullivan agreeing not to fund challenges to certain Republican House members at the expense of others.
If left to his own devices, Sullivan probably won’t ever release the tape. Why would he, when he instead can cherry-pick people with an ax to grind against Bonnen to listen to it, report back to journalists and keep the story alive?
The picture is becoming clearer, though, of what Bonnen and Burrows say they said, through an apology Bonnen penned to Republican lawmakers and a radio interview Burrows gave in Lubbock this week.
Bonnen agreed to meet with Sullivan in an attempt to get him to lay off some incumbents in the next election cycle. Empower Texans poured millions into campaigns against incumbent Republicans in the previous primaries, including to Bonnen’s opponent. Doing so again would put Republicans in danger of losing the House to Democrats, Bonnen and Burrows said, so why would Sullivan go after Republicans who support the majority of his goals?
“We do not need to lose the House ahead of redistricting,” Burrows said, on KFYO Radio in Lubbock, recounting the meeting. “But if you’re going to, why are you going after the conservatives that actually agree with you? Why are you going against all Republicans? Why aren’t you going after the ones who disagree with you? You know, if that’s what you’ve got to do, do that.”
And then Burrows read names “very off the cuff,” he said, of lawmakers who voted against a key legislative priority of Sullivan’s which would have ended government use of taxpayer-supported lobbyists.
If Burrows’ account is true that’s a far cry from the quid pro quo offer — press credentials in exchange for targeting Republicans — Sullivan claims.
The bottom line probably will come down to this: Politics is ugly. Bonnen is very good at politics. When he goes into a meeting attempting to find common ground with a political foe, he’s going to say things that are crass and not palatable to some people. Why? Because he’s very good at deal-making.
And that’s why members elected him speaker — unanimously. It’s also why he has been representing Brazoria County for more than 20 years.
It’s a story rife with drama for Austin insiders but hard for most others to follow, which leaves us with a dilemma here in House District 25, where Bonnen’s voters live. As your hometown newspaper, we have chosen so far to let political reporters tell the story through Texas Tribune pieces we publish, with local commentary along the way.
Because we’re Bonnen’s home, Brazoria and Matagorda County voters will be audience to political attacks ahead of the 2020 primaries, and those right now center on what is or isn’t on the Sullivan tape.
The Texas Rangers hopefully will wrap up their investigation into the Bonnen/Sullivan meeting sooner than later.
Then maybe once and for all Sullivan will be forced to release the tape so we can all judge for ourselves.