By Cassandra Pollock and Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune
Some of the most powerful Texas House Republicans said Monday they no longer support GOP Speaker Dennis Bonnen, marking the biggest blow yet to his political future amid the fallout from a secret recording released last week by a hardline conservative activist.
Five Republicans considered senior members of the lower chamber issued a statement withdrawing support for him: State Reps. Four Price of Amarillo, Dan Huberty of Houston, Lyle Larson of San Antonio, Chris Paddie of Marshall and John Frullo of Lubbock.
“As long-serving members of the Texas House, we informed Speaker Bonnen earlier today that we no longer support him as our Speaker,” they said in a joint statement released Monday night. “It is clear that trust and confidence in the Speaker has significantly eroded among our membership, and the matter has both damaged the reputation of the House and relationships among individual members.”
All five members were closely aligned with Bonnen this year during his first session as speaker. A number of them also chair some of the chamber’s most powerful committees: Price chairs the House Calendars Committee; Huberty heads the Public Education Committee; Larson chairs the Natural Resources Committee; and Paddie chairs the Energy Resources Committee.
Later Monday night, another high-profile chair, Phil King of Weatherford, who heads the Redistricting Committee, joined the calls for Bonnen to resign. So did Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, who said on Twitter she planned to pen a letter on Tuesday to the caucus chair requesting a caucus meeting to vote on it.
Last week, Michael Quinn Sullivan released his secret recording of a June meeting with Bonnen and one of the speaker’s top allies, state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock. That audio confirmed that Bonnen, among other things, offered Sullivan’s organization media access to the House and suggested the group, Empower Texans, politically target 10 House Republicans in the 2020 primaries. Bonnen also made a number of disparaging remarks against numerous Democrats.
Bonnen's office did not immediately respond to the loss of support Monday evening, but about two hours before the members' announcement, the speaker took to Twitter to defend — and even express regret for — his comments during the June meeting about cities and counties.
Monday’s joint statement further throws into question whether the speaker can hold onto a leadership post he was widely lauded for during the 86th legislative session. Since Sullivan released the recording last week, roughly two dozen members have either called for new leadership or the speaker's resignation. Of those who have already pulled their support for another term under Bonnen, the five who did so Monday night are the most influential, with each one carrying significant relationships and support within the House.
On Friday, the House GOP Caucus met as part of its already-scheduled annual retreat, which marked the first time the group gathered since the drama against the speaker surfaced. That meeting was supposed to last for 45 minutes. Instead, it lasted roughly four hours as members debated behind closed doors what action, if any, to take against Bonnen and Burrows, who resigned as caucus chair amid the fallout. The statement approved by the caucus condemned both members for their remarks, but the meeting appeared to deepen divisions among members as individual statements were released in the hours afterward.
“The House Republican Caucus issued an official statement condemning the conduct of Speaker Bonnen and Representative Burrows that we helped draft and fully support,” Monday's joint statement from the five members read. “However, we individually and collectively want to further express our belief that a leadership change is necessary.”