Bud Kennedy

Now GOP caucus chair, a Fort Worth lawmaker asks to let public hear Bonnen recordings

State Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, is one of two women in the state House from Tarrant County.
State Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, is one of two women in the state House from Tarrant County. Star-Telegram archives

For the first time, Texas Republicans’ madcap kindergarten squabble over promises, lies and secret recordings now includes a lawmaker from Fort Worth.

In a county where Republicans lost the U.S. Senate vote in 2018 and two pivotal local elections, the last thing the party needs is an uprising from the Tea Party right.

But in a conflict that pits former allies, new House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth is now drawn into the Austin playground brawl between supporters and doubters of Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.

For six years, Klick has been a steady conservative Republican, representing her Park Glen neighborhood of north Fort Worth, as well as Haltom City, North Richland Hills, Richland Hills and Watauga.

But now she’s the leader of Texas House Republicans.

So that also means she gets statewide grief.

A Tyler-based Tea Party faction already sent a email newsletter with a darkened photo of Klick and a headline declaring her part of the party’s “Pro-Corruption Wing.”

That’s all because she won’t call a special meeting for House Republicans to fill the caucus vice chair vacancy — a chance to beat up personally on Bonnen over his June 12 Capitol meeting with an ardent political activist.

I know this is not going to come as a surprise, but the Speaker of the Texas House said a lot of stupid things in the meeting.

Most of the cheap talk involved other Republicans. Some of it might even have violated campaign finance laws.

And it was all recorded.

House Democrats and most Republicans, including Klick, have called for activist Michael Quinn Sullivan of the Empower Texans political advocacy group to publicly play the recording.

(Sullivan accuses Bonnen of offering him an illegal inducement. Officers now have the recording, which Sullivan has shared selectively.)

For a month now, House Republicans have been iffy on Bonnen. They will probably stay that way until the Texas Rangers report back.

Suddenly, Klick is caught in the middle trying to lead a caucus that is almost evenly split and facing a tough 2020 election on a ticket led by a volatile incumbent president from New York.

“The Republican Party is really in this struggle over what it’s going to look like moving forward,” said 38-year Texas Christian University political science professor James Riddlesperger.

“On one side, you have (Gov.) Greg Abbott, and the view that the party has to be mainstream conservative to maintain control. On the other side, you have the Tea Party people and Empower Texans. ... Abbott, Bonnen and Klick, even as conservative as she is, fear that if they move too far right, they’ll be vulnerable as soon as 2020.”

(Wisely, most Tarrant County Republicans are staying away from the spitting match. The exception is lame-duck state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, of Bedford, who called for Bonnen’s resignation.)

Sullivan is refusing interviews. In a recent newsletter, he asked if Republicans “want to be known for defending deceit and condoning corruption, or do they want to be the party that drains swamps?”

Klick, like most House Republicans, isn’t talking.

But on Facebook, Klick replied to commenters from a Grapevine-based activist group called the True Texas Project, the former NE Tarrant Tea Party.

“The public statements that people have made after hearing the tape have already been damaging,” she wrote.

“Failure to publicly release the complete, unedited recording gives this the appearance of a cover-up. ... We need more transparency, not less.”

And before 2020.

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.