East Texas Republican state Reps. Chris Paddie and Jay Dean in separate statements Monday night said they can no longer support GOP Speaker Dennis Bonnen in light of what he was heard saying in a secret recording released last week by a far-right activist.
Paddie of Marshall joined four other Republicans considered senior members of the House in issuing a statement withdrawing support. The others are state Reps. Four Price of Amarillo, Dan Huberty of Houston, Lyle Larson of San Antonio and John Frullo of Lubbock.
Separately, Dean of Longview issued a statement saying his intention had been to wait for the findings of a Texas Ranger investigation into whether laws were broken by Bonnen in the deal-making he and another top Republican attempted in what they thought was a secret meeting.
“However,” Dean said in his statement, “it is clear that the trust necessary to lead the Texas House has been broken.”
A similar sentiment was conveyed in the statement issued by Paddie and the other representatives.
“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. “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 and four of them lead major 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.
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.
Included on the list of targets was state Rep. Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches. Bonnen also made a number of disparaging remarks against numerous Democrats.
Monday’s statements further throw into question whether the speaker can hold onto a leadership post for which he was widely lauded during this year’s 86th legislative session. Since Sullivan released the recording last week, roughly 20 Republicans have either called for new leadership or the speaker’s resignation.
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 earlier had 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.”
In his statement, Dean questioned whether Bonnen could regain the trust of Texans.
“Our state deserves and demands leadership whose only guiding principle is to improve the lives of each and every Texan,” he said. “To that end, I wonder how the future of our government and party are served by things as they stand.”
In an interview, Dean said his decision to call for a change came after a weekend of discussions with constituents and other elected officials.
“The overall sentiment is the speaker should resign,” he said of those discussions. “I report to my district first and will represent their wishes that Speaker Bonnen must step aside.”