Could a secret recording by right-wing activist lead to all-out civil war in the Texas GOP?

by | Aug 1, 2019 | Politics, Texas Legislature

For days, this was a story of trying to figure out which Texas Republican was lying. Now, there’s what seems to be audio evidence. 

The story is far from over, but it’s hard to see the GOP coming out the other side unscathed. Democrats should be warming up.

Here’s what we know so far. 

Michael Quinn Sullivan, CEO of the right-wing Empower Texans political action committee, says he secretly recorded a June meeting with the Republican Speaker of the House, Dennis Bonnen. Sullivan says the speaker offered up a list of 10 fellow Republicans he wanted primaried in the 2020 elections. In return, Bonnen would give Sullivan’s group media credentials, a privilege reserved for mainstream news outlets — not right-wing advocacy organizations.

Sullivan made his version of the meeting public last week but is just now revealing that he recorded the meeting. According to multiple press accounts, several Republican legislators have heard parts of the recording and confirm Sullivan’s contention a political hit list of 10 targets was discussed. The recording has not been released publicly. 

Empower Texans is a political action committee, funded by oil barron Tim Dunn, that helps elect far right, Tea Party Republicans. The group has given $75,000 to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and spent $4 million to help elect staunch conservatives in 2018. 

Since the 2018 elections, the group has been on the defensive. It’s mission is to help conservatives win elections, which they didn’t do last year. Sullivan has since blasted the most recent GOP-led legislative session as “purple,” or derisively (and incorrectly) characterizing the moderates as prevailing during the session. 

“Bonnen said things in the meeting I expect the Democrats will use against Republicans,” Sullivan said. “If the Democrats use the recording effectively, that could ultimately be harmful to Texas taxpayers.”

For his part, Bonnen has called on Sullivan to release the recording “in its entirety” and said he wants all incumbents to win their elections. In a letter to lawmakers with his version of the Sullivan meeting, Bonnen points out Empower Texans “did not enjoy political success during the most recent session of the Texas Legislature, and as a result, we were able to deliver one of the most productive sessions in memory.” 

In a Thursday editorial, the Dallas Morning News argues, “Republicans on every point of the conservative spectrum should recognize that Sullivan — he who blabs on secret meetings — is no good for the party. The kind of purity tests Sullivan has been applying to GOP lawmakers only helps Democrats in the long run.”

Sullivan says he recently met with James Dickey, the head of the Texas GOP.

The questions moving forward are: will Sullivan make the audio public? Who is telling the truth — Bonnen or Sullivan? And will Democrats effectively use this tale of GOP civil war for their own benefit? 

This is a developing story and will be updated. 

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