Ashby listed as target on tape that brings down Texas speaker

Posted 10/22/19

Trent Ashby, state representative for District 57, which includes Madison County and surrounding counties, was one of 10 Republican state congressmen named as political targets of Texas Speaker Dennis Bonnen and then-GOP Caucus chair Dustin Burrows, according to a tape of a meeting the two had with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.

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Ashby listed as target on tape that brings down Texas speaker

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Trent Ashby, state representative for District 57, which includes Madison County and surrounding counties, was one of 10 Republican state congressmen named as political targets of Texas Speaker Dennis Bonnen and then-GOP Caucus chair Dustin Burrows, according to a tape of a meeting the two had with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.

The release of the tape eventually led to Bonnen announcing Tuesday morning that he would retire from the Texas House, ending the Angleton Republican’s one-term reign as Speaker of the Texas House.

“It is with the deepest love, respect, and honor for my family, House District 25, the Texas Legislature, and the State of Texas that I have announced I will not seek re-election,” Bonnen said in a statement.

Ashby initially demurred on commenting about the tape, but later released a statement suggesting Bonnen should step down from his leadership role.

“I condemn the actions of Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, and I believe he should step aside so that we can properly begin the healing process,” Ashby said in the statement released late Wednesday. He reiterated the sentiment in a column appearing in today’s Meteor.

Since June, Bonnen has resisted suggestions that he had Burrows provide a list of Republican representatives that Bonnen would like to see face a stiff primary challenge.

Sullivan, the head of Empower Texans, released the recording of the meeting to his website early Tuesday morning. About 47 minutes into the recording, Burrows brings up Ashby and others who opposed a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying.

"Those are pretty much the ones that I don't know how to turn back to vote for the next time,” Burrows says on the recording.

In addition to Ashby, members mentioned are Steve Allison of San Antonio, Ernest Bailes of Shepherd, Keith Bell of Forney, Drew Darby of San Angelo, Kyle Kacal of College Station, Stan Lambert of Abilene, John Raney of College Station and Phil Stephenson of Wharton. All are Republicans.

Empower Texans is well-known for jumping into Republican party primaries to boost the chances of a candidate the group sees as more conservative. The group, which operates a website, has long sought to gain press credentials for the Texas House. During the recording released Tuesday, Bonnen is heard to offer such credentials in exchange for helping jump into the primaries of those mentioned.

“Speaker Bonnen's hateful comments not only betray the trust of his fellow House members, but more importantly the 29 million Texans who expect their elected leaders to serve with integrity, high moral character, and humility,” Ashby said in Wednesday’s statement.

According to a Texas Tribune article, Bonnen offered to resign Friday at a meeting of the Texas House Republicans Caucus in Austin. After a four-hour debate, members of the caucus didn’t accept the resignation, but condemned the words heard on the tape.

"We, the members of the Texas House Republican Caucus, condemn in the strongest possible terms the offensive language used and the statements made by Speaker Bonnen and Representative Burrows during the secretly recorded meeting which occurred on June 12th," the group said in a statement. "Both members violated the high standards of conduct we expect of our members. Their conduct does not reflect the views of our Caucus membership."

Ashby doubled down on the criticism in his statement.

“I have always felt that public service is a noble calling that demands the highest moral character of those who are entrusted with public office,” he said. “As such, I am profoundly disappointed by what was revealed in the recording. The profane language used to blatantly disrespect members of the Texas House through backroom political deal-making is offensive, inappropriate, and should be rejected by every member of the Texas House.”

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