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Texas House and Secret Tapes: Swan Song of the Cockroaches

Is Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen the hero, the victim or just another cuckoo bird in the latest Austin imbroglio?EXPAND
Is Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen the hero, the victim or just another cuckoo bird in the latest Austin imbroglio?
Texas House of Representatives
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First question. Who gives a damn? This very weird story keeps bouncing around the mediaverse about Dennis Bonnen, who is speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, and an audio recording that a guy says he made of Bonnen making dirty remarks about other politicians. And we care about this because …?

Here’s what the lamestream media should have put in the story to help us understand. The person behind all of this is a zany West Texas zillionaire who wants the country to be ruled by a Christian king. They forgot that part.

Wow. If you’re like me, you might have been a lot quicker to read the rest of those stories had they told us up top that a zany zillionaire is trying to turn the country over to a Christian king. Now that’s a headline: “OILMAN WANTS KING. Thinks democracy sucks.”

I’d read that in a heartbeat. But without that part, the rest of it sounds like nerds gossiping after a night of hotel high jinks at a comic book convention: “You were cussing last night, and I taped you.”

“Was not.”

“Was so.”

Maybe that’s all it will amount to when history looks back — an eerie swan song by the Texas Republican Party as it finally dissolves into total witchcraft. But not yet. Right now the swan song is still a little too close for comfort. We need to keep an eye on the witchcraft part, anyway.

The definitive reporting on the Christian kingmaker was done by Texas’ master investigative reporter, R.G. Ratcliffe, for the December 2018 Texas Monthly. Ratcliffe nailed down the tens of millions of dollars that West Texas Christo-fascist Tim Dunn and a handful of Christian-crazy oil families have been sluicing into Texas politics for a decade, mainly through an entity called Empower Texans.

Ratcliffe quotes Dunn in his piece as saying on a Christian video: “The real biblical approach to government is — the ideal is — a kingdom with a perfect king.” While Dunn waits for that to happen, he is willing to accept some limited democracy, but only if it is run entirely by devout fundamentalist Christians.

None of this is new. Ratcliffe reports that in 2010 Dunn stunned Joe Straus, then speaker of the House, by telling Straus, a Jew, over breakfast that Dunn wanted only Christians to occupy positions of leadership in the House. And you are thinking, “Well, sure, and then Straus threw his scrambled eggs in the guy’s face and told him to get lost and that was the end of it, right?”

Wrong. It took a few years, but Straus finally lost his own eggs, stepped down as speaker and left the Legislature this year. That’s where we got Bonnen, a Republican from Lake Jackson who has represented his district south of Houston for 23 years, since he was 24.

Ask yourself what kind of guy becomes a state representative at 24. What kind of guy at that age even knows what a state representative is? And is that a good thing?

From 2010, which we might call the Year of No Jews, to 2019 — the Year of Bonnen — Dunn and his Christian frack posse have poured impossible tons of money into key legislative races, knocking off vulnerable moderate Republicans and replacing them with remarkable wing-nuts like Rep. Jonathan Stickland from Tarrant County, a legislator so immoderate, so absurd, so utterly bereft of even vestigial merit that Texas Monthly had to invent a special category for him appended to the bottom of its traditional “worst” list of legislators. Stickland this year became the first member of the monthly’s new “cockroach” category. He has announced he will not seek reelection in 2020.

Bonnen is a semi-moderate at heart but has done everything he possibly could over the years to keep the witchcraft wing of his party at bay, voting in favor of guns on college campuses, in favor of smoking in public buildings, in favor of drug testing for persons receiving unemployment compensation and in favor of requiring women undergoing abortion to submit to compulsory sonograms. He even referred to children displaced by Hurricane Katrina as “coon asses.”

That just wasn’t enough for Empower Texans, the group funded by Dunn the Christian. Michael Quinn Sullivan, CEO of Empower Texans, who likes to be called by his distinctive initials, MQS (sometimes pronounced behind his back as “Mucous”), is the person who says he secretly recorded a meeting with Bonnen in which Bonnen said awful things about politicians. Here we come to another part of the story that seems to get left out when the dinosaur media are telling it:

Even the thought of Mucous MQS accusing anyone but himself of saying or doing an awful thing is falling-down-laughing absurd, because MQS himself is the king of awful things. He’s the king of the worst possible things.

Just one example: He faked up a phony government agency that he called the Texas Ethics Disclosure Board; he faked up a document from the fake government agency; he sent the fake document to voters in the western Tarrant County district of Republican Rep. Charlie Geren; the document said Geren was having “a relationship” with a lobbyist.

Indeed. The relationship is called marriage.

And that’s not an anomaly or a one-off by any means. It’s exactly how MQS rolls and always has. His puppet-master, Dunn the Christian, obviously believes the only way he can usher in his era of Christian autocracy is by rolling in the gutter. Rather than get all mussed up himself, he pays MQS to do the rolling for him. MQS, by all accounts, loves it.

Bonnen, whose interest is in holding together his tenuous majority in the House, has castigated MQS for targeting Republicans in elections. For some reason that no one can grasp, Bonnen and another legislator took a meeting with MQS on June 12. Afterward, MQS claimed that Bonnen and the other legislator had said very nasty things in the meeting about House members. MQS also said they had tried in the meeting to bribe MQS to target Republicans in elections.

Does this begin to not make any sense at all to you? Does it not ring true? Does it lack credibility? Does it strain credulity? Does it sound like something from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? Oh, just you wait. We are just getting started.

Jonathan Stickland is such a terrible legislator, Texas Monthly had to invent a new sub-category for him to add to the bottom of its worst list.EXPAND
Jonathan Stickland is such a terrible legislator, Texas Monthly had to invent a new sub-category for him to add to the bottom of its worst list.
Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

First, Bonnen did what would seem appropriate. He said MQS was a famous jerk who couldn’t be believed, and he said he did not know why he ever took a meeting with such a famous jerk. And that would seem to take care of it, slap, slap, case closed.

Then MQS said he had taped the meeting. At first he said he couldn’t play the tape because it was just too awful, but then he changed his mind. He said now he could play the tape, but only for certain people.

OK, take a deep breath, pinch your nose, put your toes together, because now we are about to go right off the high board.

Bonnen challenged MQS to release the whole recording. MQS declined. But Bonnen also began issuing increasingly abject apologies for what was on the recording, telling House members, “I said terrible things that are embarrassing to the members, to the House, and to me personally.”

MQS, meanwhile, still won’t release the tape publicly but keeps playing parts of it for certain House members. He played it for Jonathan Stickland, the cockroach, who was aghast and appalled.

Stickland told the Houston Chronicle, “There’s just frankly vomiting of the mouth, if you will, by these individuals, and you can’t help but just kind of cringe by some of the stuff I heard. ... It’s beneath the office, for sure.”

The thing of it is, that’s the cockroach talking. When a cockroach accuses someone of vomiting from the mouth, it’s serious. Who else could even come up with such an expression? So now we are posed a challenge. It is up to us to figure out what all of this means.

First, Dunn the Christian wants to disestablish democracy and install a theocratic regime. To bring this about, he surrounds himself with cockroaches who roll in the gutter and lie.

The head cockroach has a meeting with the speaker of the House. Terrible things are said by the speaker, but whatever things are said, they must be more terrible for the cockroach than for the speaker, because the cockroach is the one who won’t release his own recording of the terrible things.

By apologizing abjectly for something for which he clearly feels no remorse at all, the speaker is trying to block the punches he knows will rain down on him when the terrible things finally get out, as they inevitably must.

And last, at the end of last week, the state Democratic Party sued Bonnen and his ally who was in the meeting with him. They also sued MQS. The lawsuit alleges that the three men had a meeting at which something awful may have happened, but the Democrats can’t be sure until they get a copy of that tape. I’m glad they sued, because it reminded me of a very important principle of Texas politics: Never call the Texas Republicans stupid until you’ve checked on what the Texas Democrats are doing.

About the tape: What on earth could any of these people have said about each other that would be shocking? In fact, what could they have said that would be even mildly surprising? I’m sure we’re way past disappointment. They may shock each other, but for us to be shocked by them, they’d have to shoot us. (Joke.)

I know what we would say if we had any dignity. We would say, “Please, that’s more than enough. All of you insult us with your unseemliness.” We would wash our hands of this, cover our ears and turn away.

But what do you think it was? I mean, don’t you want to know? It had to be really nasty. I bet there was a final scene like this just before the collapse of the Roman Empire, when they all lost it and started running around the Senate pulling each other’s hair. And if Austin were to collapse and blow away, would that be entirely a bad thing?

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