Eventually, Rep. Burrows will have to end silence after resigning
After several weeks of speculation and sustained silence, State Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) announced last Friday that he was resigning as chairman of the Republican Caucus. The decision represents the first visible fallout from a meeting of Burrows, Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Michael Quinn Sullivan.
The full contours of that June 12 meeting in Austin have yet to be made public, despite Sullivan, the CEO of the hardline conservative political action group Empower Texans, indicating he had privately recorded the meeting. Thus far, Sullivan has not made the recording public, despite calls to do so from Bonnen, other lawmakers and media outlets.
Bonnen, who has had little to say about the matter, issued a brief statement Friday, saying Burrows "was a strong leader for the caucus. I respect his decision and I remain committed to strengthening our majority."
The dispute, which continues to linger over the state's Republican party as it ramps up for the 2020 elections, centers on Sullivan's claim that during the meeting Bonnen offered Empower Texans media access to the House for the 2021 session if the group "targeted" 10 Republican members in the 2020 elections. Sullivan said Bonnen then left the room, and Burrows listed off the 10 members.
There has been much back and forth on this matter since it first became public, and throughout Burrows has been steadfast in making no public comment, declining media interview requests, canceling a handful of previously scheduled speaking engagements and reportedly frustrating several Republican colleagues along the way.
To be fair, a written statement from Bonnen said he had asked Burrows not to comment. For his part, Speaker Bonnen initially disputed Sullivan's version of the meeting, but in the days since apologized for saying "terrible things" during the meeting.
Of course, that doesn't mean everything is at a standstill. Far from it. Privately, other lawmakers have said Burrows, a three-term representative, has visited some of the people on the alleged list in what has been characterized as efforts of reconciliation. However, no one is going on the record about what's transpiring.
The simmering controversy took a turn last week when the House Investigation Committee unanimously moved to bring the Texas Rangers in. That virtually ensures no public comments from those involved, and that is appropriate. Let the Rangers do their work and the investigation go wherever it must go.
Burrows' decision to step down as caucus chair was likely made in the best interest of the party and Speaker Bonnen. Burrows emerged as a strong supporter of the speaker prior to the start of the 2019 session, and that support contributed to his ascendancy among House leadership. It seems logical that same quality is on display now.
This move, though, will not bring an end to the Sullivan-Bonnen matter. It is only the latest development in an ongoing saga. While there may be those hoping this issue simply fades away, that seems an improbable scenario as ethics violations involving Bonnen are part of an increasingly complicated mix.
The time may not be right yet for those involved to comment publicly as there are lots of moving parts and competing narratives in play, but eventually a time will come when what happened in that June meeting will get sorted out. It is at that point, we hope the silence will end, replaced by long-awaited answers.