Rep. Dustin Burrows, Embarrassed in ‘target List’ Incident, Resigns as Texas House GOP Caucus Chief

AUSTIN -- The head of the Texas House’s Republican caucus is the first casualty of a botched and controversial secret meeting that Speaker Dennis Bonnen held with a conservative activist.On Friday, Lubbock GOP Rep. Dustin Burrows, a three-term House member, who emerged as one of Bonnen’s top lieutenants last fall, resigned Friday as chairman of the House Republican caucus.Bonnen issued a statement following the announcement: "Dustin Burrows is my friend and was a strong leader for the caucus. I respect his decision and I remain committed to strengthening our majority."Burrows's resignation comes as he is mired in a controversy that has gripped Texas politics and engulfed Bonnen's speakership for the last three weeks. Though he remains chairman of the chamber's powerful Ways and Means Committee, Burrows has lost one of his major positions at the Capitol just months after he’d shepherded a property tax bill that was a Republican priority through the House in this year's legislative session. Michael Quinn Sullivan, a conservative activist and frequent critic of GOP leadership, alleged in late July that Bonnen and Burrows had offered him a quid pro quo if he and his political action committee, Empower Texans, refrained from criticizing the session and targeted a select group of 10 incumbent House Republicans. The Texas Rangers are now investigating allegations of impropriety against Bonnen and Burrows at the June 12 meeting, which was held in Bonnen’s Capitol office. Burrows could also become the target of a lawsuit by the Texas Democratic Party, which alleges the meeting violated a slew of election laws. Burrows, 40, a lawyer and businessman, played a high-profile role in this year’s legislative session as sponsor of Senate Bill 2, which is designed to limit future growth of property taxes.Bonnen, who previously led Ways and handed the role to Burrows after ascending to become speaker, joked during a June press conference celebrating the property tax legislation that Burrows had made passing the bill “look damned easy.” But it was his other hat as GOP caucus chief that he wore in a disputed, hour-long meeting with the speaker and Sullivan.The meet-up remained a closely guarded secret until July 25, when Sullivan published on his Texas Scorecard website a post that accused Bonnen and Burrows of plotting to target 10 fellow Republicans in primary elections.The speaker offered Texas Scorecard media credentials in the next session, Sullivan said, if Empower Texans would stop attacking him and his allies in advance of the March GOP primaries, and instead back challengers and spend money to defeat the 10. Near the meeting’s end, Bonnen “made a show of leaving his office” so Burrows could read the list, Sullivan said.Four days later, Bonnen denied giving Sullivan a list, and defended Burrows, saying he told Burrows not to comment on the matter because the blog post was a direct attack on Bonnen as the speaker. But when Sullivan disclosed he secretly made an audio recording of the meeting -- and after several House members and others allowed to listen to it confirmed Sullivan’s general outline of what happened -- the credibility of the speaker’s denial was cast into doubt. The recordings also shed light on damning derogatory comments Bonnen reportedly made about Democratic and Republican colleagues and a quip by Burrows that Forney GOP Rep. Keith Bell was a “dumb freshman.” Burrows’ silence angered some House Republicans.A few hours before Bonnen issued his July 29 denial, the GOP caucus staff sent out a routine email, inquiring what campaign events were being planned that Republican incumbents could attend to show support.That infuriated Rep. Ernest Bailes, a Shepherd Republican who was on the alleged target list and was pressuring Burrows to confirm or deny its existence.“It is appalling that the caucus is soliciting information on this Monday morning for district events and has yet [to] even remotely address the egregious claims which have been made,” Bailes wrote in an email to Jordan Wat, executive director of the caucus. The Dallas Morning News obtained the email through an open-records request to Bailes.“The deft silence only solidifies truth within the allegations ...” Bailes wrote.Wat replied, “The Caucus has not released an official statement on this subject and I am unaware of Chairman Burrows making an individual statement. I’ll make sure to inquire and see whether he intends to do so.”In recent years, Empower Texans and allies such as Texas Right to Life and Texas Eagle Forum sought to oust former Speaker Joe Straus and his allies in Republican primaries, arguing they were too moderate and that Straus relied heavily on Democratic lawmakers when he originally won the speaker’s post in 2009. Sullivan and other staunch conservatives insisted the House GOP caucus should decide who becomes speaker, through a binding caucus vote.Traditionally, members of both parties had a say because the election is held on the opening day of a regular session, as the state Constitution requires. Even before Straus in October 2017 announced he would retire, Burrows made a motion that the caucus change its bylaws in the fashion Sullivan and others were demanding.After a five-member committee that included Burrows made a recommendation, the GOP caucus changed its bylaws to require its members to vote on a speaker weeks before session starts.Last fall, after Bonnen announced he had support in his bid to become speaker from 109 of the House’s 150 members, including the vast majority of Republicans, the bylaws change had little practical effect -- though the caucus complied with it. However, if Republicans keep control of the House in next year’s elections, and in future cycles, the change potentially makes the caucus chairman’s post one with weighty responsibility. -30-**  Continue reading...

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