The Fallout of #Bonnghazi

The publication of the Michael Quinn Sullivan, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, and Rep. Dustin Burrows meeting had one casualty in that of Speaker Bonnen but it hurts Burrows too. Should he return to Austin in 2021, Burrows will be ineffective due to what he said in that meeting. He will be so toxic that if the Republicans hold onto the House for the next legislative session, Burrows will be paired with John Frullo in an attempt to get him out of the legislature. Burrows should do his district and the state a favor by either not seeking reelection or resigning his seat.

Since Michael Quinn Sullivan released the recording of his meeting with Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, the embattled Speaker announced he would not seek reelection to the House of Representatives, consequently not be Speaker of the House for the 87th Legislative Session in 2021. While Speaker Bonnen fell on his sword with this decision in an effort to end the ongoing buzz of his clandestine meeting with drafty and dodgy Sullivan, one important question remains to be answered. What of Speaker Bonnen’s top ally Dustin Burrows? Will there be fallout? If so, what will it be?

House District 83 State Representative Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), was in the meeting with Bonnen and Sullivan. He was asked by Speaker Bonnen to remain silent throughout the fiasco but on August 22, Rep. Burrows broke his silence on “The Chad Hasty Show.” He said he was silent during that time not only because the Speaker asked him to, but also he thought “the recording would be out.” He also claimed to be invited to the meeting unexpectedly by the Speaker to discuss the 2020 elections with Sullivan. He went as far to explain to viewers of “Talking Points with Bryan Mudd” how he attended the meeting “in good faith” and “happened to be in town.” Once one listens to the recording, however, a clear assessment can be made the meeting was an orchestrated event and Burrows was prepared for it.

So what of it? Burrows attended a meeting and discussed the next election with someone both he and the Speaker wanted on their side. Why is this a thing?

It is a thing because on the recording, Burrows goes through the vote for SB 29, the ban on taxpayer funded lobbying. This is where cities, counties, schools, — really any taxing entity — pays dues for groups like the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) and Texas Municipal League (TML) to lobby the government. That was a top issue for the Texas Republican Party for the 2019 session and became the standard bearer for the “hit list” given to Sullivan and Empower Texans. When listening to the recording, Burrows gave several names (of Republicans) who voted against SB 29 and would be in his role as Caucus Chair worth Empower Texans going after in the 2020 Republican Primary.

The short end of it? Burrows gave Sullivan a “hit list” of Republicans who neither he nor Speaker Bonnen would defend in the primary.

This matters because Burrows sold out his colleagues to a guy and his group on the fringe of Texas conservatism and can no longer be trusted. Believe it or not, trust plays a key part in politics, especially in Texas. If one cannot be trusted, then there is nothing left for the lawmaker. That is part of the reason, which he will not admit, Burrows resigned as Republican Caucus Chair. His trust eroded.

State Representative Dustin Burrows listening to constituents

To a lesser extent, Burrows hurt himself among his constituents too. On the recording, he said “we hate cities and counties” and wanted them “to have another bad session” in 2021. Burrows went on to tell Sullivan about his idea to lower property taxes even further. According to the recording, Burrows wanted to “steal” the two (2) percent of the sales tax cities add from cities in an attempt to lower property taxes. As crafty as that is, the two (2) percent of sales tax is used for economic development and for rural and small towns, that makes or breaks them. Moreover, House District 83 — Burrows’ district — is mostly made up of rural areas. It has about 35–40% of Lubbock county along with all of Borden, Gaines, Lynn, Mitchell, Terry, and Scurry counties. These areas have trouble attracting and keeping residents as it is but without the economic development share of the sales tax, Brownfield, Colorado City, Idalou, Seagraves, Seminole, Slaton, Snyder, Tahoka, and Wolfforth would turn into ghost towns.

Before the recording was released, Burrows announced his intent to run for reelection on his Facebook campaign page. There have been whispers of primary challengers but in all honesty, there have always been whispers of such but none stayed in the race. *shrug*

If we want to get real, what Burrows should do is resign or not run for reelection. Would Burrows win in the general election, most likely yes and that is probably why he is still in the race. There was another rumor and innuendo that Burrows was about to resign until his mentor State Senator Charles Perry talked him out of it. Be that as it may, Burrows is a calculated politician. He knows having that “R” next to his name propels him back to Austin, but what he also must know is that he will be ineffective once he returns.

If those on the “hit list” get any chair or vice chair appointments, Burrows will not be on their committee. If the GOP Caucus wants effective floor debaters, Burrows will not be on its short list. If Texas Tech wants or needs anything, he will get a courtesy invitation but not handed anything serious. It will be like his first session in 2015; he will be a bystander.

What is also clear but does not get discussed is the redistricting task for 2021. It is for this reason Burrows should hope the Democrats take over the House. If they do, they will not gerrymander him. They will let him keep his place mainly due to his more than congenial relationship with Speaker Pro-Tempore Joe Moody (D-El Paso). But if the Republicans hold onto the House, Burrows is in trouble. The Republicans will gerrymander Burrows into John Frullo’s (R- Lubbock) district (aka pairing), thereby forcing Burrows and Frullo to face each other in the 2022 Republican Primary. To put another way, the House Republicans will punish Burrows to the point they want him gone.

In the 86th session, he chaired the powerful Ways and Means Committee and led the property tax reform bill through the House. He had the blessing from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s editorial board as it wrote a glowing piece on the newly minted Chairman. For a third term representative to do that is impressive. But when the recording of the meeting with Speaker Bonnen, Burrows, and Sullivan (aka #Bonnghazi) was released, the house of cards Burrows built fell, as did his clout with colleagues and the thought of adding more political capital for the 87th session.

As smart as he is, Burrows should know he will not be welcomed in the Texas House. He should do the honorable thing for his state, district, and Party and step aside.

House District 83 State Representative and Ways and Means Chair Dustin Burrows

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Drew Landry

Drew Landry

Government Prof; Baseball fan; Political junkie; @drewllandry on Twitter