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Lawmaker resigns as House GOP caucus chairman amid Empower Texans allegations

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One of the lawmakers embroiled in allegations of a quid pro quo offer that is being looked into by the Texas Rangers has resigned as chairman of the Texas House Republican Caucus.

The resignation Friday of Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, comes three weeks after he was accused by a conservative activist of taking part in a June 12 meeting where Burrows allegedly read off a list of 10 Republican incumbents for the political advocacy group Empower Texans to target in their bids for re-election. In exchange, Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan said House Speaker Dennis Bonnen offered the group long sought-after House press credentials.

Sullivan later revealed he secretly recorded the meeting, and lawmakers who have listened to it said it largely supports Sullivan’s account.

Burrows has not publicly commented on the accusations, while Bonnen has denied a list of lawmakers was produced.

“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,” Bonnen said in a statement.

Burrows’ office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Shortly after radio show host Chad Hasty first reported Burrows’ resignation as chair, Sullivan took to Twitter to double down on the Speaker’s role in the allegations. Sullivan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“But let’s be clear,” Sullivan wrote. Bonnen, “is the one who made the VERY unethical offer ... and he’s the one who talked about a list of targets.“

Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, who was serving as vice-chair of the caucus, confirmed she will assume the role of chair in light of Burrows’ resignation. Klick said the caucus’ bylaws will be followed to fill the vacancy of vice chair within 30 days, and that there are provisions to allow members to vote by mail since lawmakers aren’t in session.

Klick declined to comment further on specifics of Burrows’ resignation or the allegations surrounding him.

“We’ve sent out an email to the caucus membership. We need to communicate with them first,” Klick said.

According to The Texan, the caucus adopted new bylaws this past legislative session that prohibit members from campaigning against or financially supporting an opponent of a fellow caucus member.

In May, Bonnen warned House members that they would face repercussions if they campaigned against their colleagues.

Republican lawmakers have called for the caucus to investigate, and a handful have called on Bonnen to resign.

In a televised town hall Thursday night, Gov. Greg Abbott said calls for Bonnen’s resignation are premature and that the Rangers’ involvement is the “best thing that could happen.”

“We need to get to the bottom of this and get to the bottom of it quickly. If they find out that anything bad happened, action needs to be taken. On the other hand, if after their investigation they say nothing bad or illegal happened, we need to move on,” Abbott said. “But I don’t know any of the facts of what happened.”

The allegations have roiled the House, and are the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party and an initial inquiry by the Texas Rangers after a request was made by the House General Investigating Committee.

In a statement Friday, Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, called for the recording to be released to the public. Sullivan has selectively shared it with Republican lawmakers and party officials.

“Where there is smoke, there is fire,” Garcia said. “Presumably Chair Burrows had good reason to resign. Texans deserve full transparency. It’s time for the full recording to be released.”

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Tessa Weinberg is a state government reporter for the Star-Telegram, covering all things policy and politics. She previously covered the Missouri legislature where her reporting prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. A California native and graduate of the University of Missouri, she’s made her way across the U.S. and landed in Texas in May 2019.
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