After a generally harmonious and productive 2019 legislative session, the Texas House has been rocked by revelations of a secret recording of a meeting between Michael Quinn Sullivan (a controversial conservative activist and CEO of Empower Texans), House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lubbock Representative Dustin Burrows.

During the meeting, Bonnen crudely insulted some House members, and — more problematically — asked Sullivan to help fund opposition to 10 current Republican House members in the 2020 elections, with the assurance of giving the activist’s group House press credentials next session. He also asked Sullivan to tone down his criticism of Bonnen. Targeting members of his own party is a major problem for Bonnen among his House colleagues, especially after he had promised to support all Republican House members in their re-election campaigns and told the media that he would not tolerate incumbents campaigning against other House members.

Texas Rangers are investigating the situation to determine whether the apparent promise of governmental action (the granting of press credentials) in exchange for certain campaign-related actions is a criminal offense.

TCTA and the education community are paying close attention to this situation. Several of the 10 Republican members targeted by Bonnen are among the moderate, education-friendly faction of the party, although the target list was not based on education issues. The 10 targeted Republican House members are Reps. Steve Allison, Trent Ashby, Ernest Bailes, Travis Clardy, Drew Darby, Kyle Kacal, Stan Lambert, Tan Parker, John Raney, and Phil Stephenson.

Of particular interest to teachers is a brief discussion of legislation prohibiting payroll deduction of association dues. A “union dues” bill is mentioned multiple times by Sullivan as a high priority bill that did not pass during the session. He says “…a good reading of Sun Tzu notes the first thing you do is cut off your enemy’s supply lines.” Burrows responds that the “teachers’ unions” were against it, “which was scary.”

Several Republican House members have publicly called for Bonnen to resign his position, and the Republican caucus is expected to discuss the matter at a long-planned annual retreat in Austin this weekend.