Tag Archives: Empower Texans

Hoping to de-fang Empower Texans

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

My wish list for the 2021 Texas Legislature is fairly modest, given the constraints the pandemic has placed before governing bodies all across the nation.

I want to offer this modest wish for our legislators: Do not let Empower Texans call the shots on your agenda.

Empower Texans, in my view, is a truly detestable political action committee. It is led by a guy named Michael Quinn Sullivan, a fellow I do not know but he is someone about whom I have heard plenty.

He stuck a shiv in former House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s back in 2019, recording a meeting he and Bonnen had in which Bonnen gave him the names of 10 Republican legislators that Empower Texans could target for defeat. He recorded the event with Bonnen’s knowledge.

He and his PAC have meddled in GOP primaries throughout the state, including in the Texas Panhandle, where I lived for 23 years before moving to Dallas area two years ago. He has sought to defeat fine legislators, friends of mine … so perhaps my anger is a bit too personal. But it is what it is, you know?

I just want Empower Texans to be kept at arm’s length. The PAC is too rigid to suit me, as a taxpaying Texan. I do not want this outfit to “empower” me in any fashion.

My plea, then, goes directly to two men: Republican state Sen. Drew Springer and Republican state Rep. Scott Sanford. They represent me in the Legislature.

Stay away from Empower Texans. Got it? Good!

Stay away from Empower Texans boss

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan should heed this piece of advice, were he to see it … and I hope he does.

Do not go anywhere near right-wing fanatic Empower Texans founder Michael Quinn Sullivan without first frisking the dude to ensure he isn’t wired with recording equipment.

The Beaumont Republican succeeded former Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who retired from politics at the end of this past year after rserving a single term as speaker. Bonnen drove his political career eover a cliff by being recorded by Sullivan offering the names of 10 GOP legislators whom Sullivan and Empower Texans could defeat at the ballot box this past year.

Furthermore, Sullivan said he had recorded the conversation. Bonnen denied saying the things Sullivan reported he said. It turns out Bonnen was, um, lying. We know he did say those things because Sullivan produced the recording.

Ouch, man!

Speaker Phelan has made a point of seeking to work with Democrats as well as Republicans. Empower Texans is not interested in bipartisanship. It is interested instead in building a far-right conservative movement that installs like-minded politicians in power.

Given what we know about Empower Texans and what Phelan has stated about how he intends to run the Texas House, well … he needs to just keep his distance from Sullivan and Empower Texans.

I hope you see this, Mr. Speaker.

Some advice for next Texas House speaker …

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Admittedly, I am a long time and a long way from my days in Beaumont, Texas, covering and commenting on politics of the region.

So I am drafting this blog post with a bit of trepidation. It appears that a young man from that corner of the state is set to become the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

He is state Rep. Dade Phelan, a Republican. He is the son of a prominent developer in the community, a fellow I knew only casually. Still, I feel only a couple of degrees separated from Rep. Phelan.

I wish him well if he musters the support he claims to have lined up to be elected speaker in advance of the 2021 Texas Legislature. Phelan succeeds a fellow who turned out to be an abject failure as speaker, state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, who served a single term as speaker before deciding against running for another term in the House.

So, it’s one and done for Bonnen. The dude found himself in a meeting with a right-wing zealot who taped the event secretly. The two of them talked about Bonnen turning on 10 of his GOP colleagues, offering them as targets for Michael Quinn Sullivan, guru of Empower Texans, to defeat in the 2020 Republican Party primary.

Bonnen denied saying those things. Sullivan then produced the recordings of Bonnen deceiving his colleagues. Bonnen apologized. Then when the sh** hit the fan, he decided to retire from the Legislature. Now he’s about to be gone.

In steps Phelan, a young man who pledges to work across the aisle. He wants to curry favor with Democrats as well as Republicans … or so I have been led to believe.

That’s not a bad goal. Some previous House speakers have done well serving the entire body, not just the members of their own party. I think of Republican Joe Straus of San Antonio and Democrat Pete Laney of Hale Center; I happen to know Laney fairly well, as I covered him when I moved from Beaumont to Amarillo in early 1995. Texas House speakers can govern effectively if they adhere to the traditions of the Legislature, which include bipartisanship when it becomes necessary.

OK, so here’s the final bit of advice I for Rep. Phelan: Don’t speak privately to Michael Quinn Sullivan without frisking him to ensure he isn’t recording what you tell him.

Damage is done, Empower Texans

I’ve gone from despising Empower Texans to hating the ultra right-wing political action committee with what my dear Mom used to call a “purple passion.”

An audio recording has surfaced in which two Empower Texans operatives are making fun of the fact that Gov. Greg Abbott is confined to a wheelchair. The recording is profanity-laced. It is tasteless in the extreme.

Now, to be fair, Empower Texans boss Michael Quinn Sullivan has apologized to Abbott. He has condemned the remarks. I don’t know if he has dismissed the yahoos who made the comments. He damn sure should.

I want to be clear about my feelings about Empower Texans. This right-wing PAC has become involved in Republican Party primary politics, It targets GOP incumbents who ET believes aren’t “conservative enough.” In 2018, ET went after state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price, two Amarillo Republicans I happen to know quite well. Seliger and Price survived the challenge.

Now we hear from Empower Texans’ operatives Tony McDonald and Cary Cheshire talking trash. Indeed, to poke fun of a public official’s disability is pure trash.

State Rep. Jeff Leach, a Plano Republican, said this via Twitter: Abbott has more strength in his spine & integrity in his pinkie than these fools. Silver lining: now the masses get to see what many of us have known for a long time: A once reputable & respected policy organization, ET has turned in to nothing more than a sanctimonious sewer.

Am I a fan of Greg Abbott’s politics and his world view? No, I am not. That’s beside the point. The point I want to make is that Empower Texans has shown that two members of its high command behave despicably beyond measure.

Yes, I hate Empower Texans.

Club for Growth channels Empower Texans

I no longer live in the 13th Congressional District of Texas, but I remain interested in the political dynamics of that sprawling region of the state.

The upcoming Republican Party primary runoff election is the latest event to trigger my interest. Retired Navy Admiral/Dr. Ronny Jackson is running against Josh Winegarner for the congressional seat being vacated by longtime GOP Rep. Mac Thornberry.

Winegarner finished first during the primary in a huge field of GOP contenders, but didn’t get enough votes to win the nomination outright; so he’s facing the second place finisher, Jackson.

This is getting interesting. Jackson has received the endorsement of a group called Club for Growth, which an Amarillo political action committee, Amarillo Matters, describes as a group that “raises and spends a lot of money on political races, mostly pitting Republicans against other Republican candidates.”

They’re outsiders, according to Amarillo Matters. Club for Growth has no discernible interest in the 13th Congressional District, except to help elect candidates who hue to its right-wing national agenda. Amarillo Matters compares this outfit to Empower Texans, an Austin-based right-wing advocacy group that does the same thing. Empower Texans, in 2018, sought to unseat state Sen. Kel Seliger and state Rep. Four Price, both of Amarillo … but got its melon thumped by voters in Seliger’s Senate district and Price’s House district.

Amarillo Matters is backing Winegarner, contending that their guy is a locally grown candidate who knows the district. Jackson is a carpetbagger, having never lived within the 13th District.

Amarillo Matters writes: You might remember the name Chris Ekstrom. He’s a multi-millionaire from Dallas who spent more than $1 million trying to buy our congressional seat in the primary election. He was one of fourteen candidates that Winegarner beat by steep margins in March. In that election, Ekstrom received an endorsement from a nation-wide organization named Club for Growth. 

So now this outfit is at it again. It seeks to meddle where it has no real interest or concern. Don’t misunderstand me on this point: I don’t really care whether Winegarner gets the GOP nod. He’s a right-winger, too, and not precisely my kinda congressman. At least, though, he knows the district — unlike the retired naval officer and physician who once treated Presidents Obama and Trump.

Amarillo Matters has done a good job of alerting voters of the 13th Congressional District about what’s going on … supposedly in their name. Stay alert, my former neighbors.

Speaker Bonnen comes clean … but he’s still a goner

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen messed up royally when he agreed to meet with a far-right-wing political activist and then offered to toss 10 of his fellow legislative Republicans over the proverbial cliff.

He finally has fessed up to the mess he created. It’s just that it is way too late to do him any good. Bonnen took many hits from his Texas Legislature colleagues and then decided he wouldn’t seek re-election from his Angleton House district after serving just a single legislative term as the Man of the House.

Why speak out now? Who knows? At some level, though, I do care.

Bonnen conspired with Michael Quinn Sullivan, the head of that far-right outfit Empower Texans. He committed a terrible mistake by agreeing to meet with Sullivan in the first place. You see, Sullivan recorded the meeting secretly, then sprang the trap into which he had snared Bonnen in the summer of 2019. He revealed what Bonnen had done; Bonnen at first denied it; then Sullivan released the recording and, by golly, he was right.

Bonnen had given Sullivan the names of 10 legislators. He also offered to provide media credentials to Empower Texans, enabling the PAC direct access to House members on the House floor when the Legislature was in session. Very, very bad call, Mr. Speaker.

Bonnen spoke recently to the Dallas Morning News in which he apologized to his House colleagues and admitted to turning his career into so much road kill.

I am hoping for all I’m worth that the next speaker of the Texas House of Representatives will learn from Bonnen’s mess up … and trust Michael Quinn Sullivan only as far as he can toss him.

Hoping the Legislature wises up to Empower Texans’ trickery

Empower Texans is a political action committee that has tremendous sway in the Texas Legislature, which at the moment comprises many legislators who adhere to Empower Texans’ extreme right-wing dogma.

We’ve got 181 legislators in both chambers, many of whom think Empower Texans speak for millions of Texans and deserve a special place at the legislative table.

The cabal of zealots deserves nothing of the sort.

My hope for the 2021 Legislature, which convenes next January, is that the legislative leadership — particularly in the House of Representatives — keeps its distance from Michael Quinn Sullivan’s PAC.

It’s not as though Sullivan hasn’t earned legislators’ scorn. Witness what he did to soon-to-be former House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. He and Bonnen had a “secret” meeting. They agreed that Bonnen would provide the names of 10 Republican lawmakers that Empower Texans could work to defeat in the 2020 election. Sullivan recorded the meeting without telling Bonnen. Then he spilled the beans on the speaker, who at first denied saying the mean things he said about his GOP colleagues. The denial lasted right up until the moment Sullivan produced the audio recording.

As they say … Oops!

Sullivan is untrustworthy. So, too, is Empower Texans, which Sullivan runs. Yet the PAC continues to throw its weight around. It seeks to demand that local legislators follow Empower Texans’ agenda.

I want Empower Texans to be put in its place. I want Michael Quinn Sullivan, who has launched efforts against legislators I happen to know and respect, to cease playing an outsized role in determining the Legislature’s political course.

He won’t bow out voluntarily. It then falls on legislative leaders to exert the power they possess to keep Sullivan and Empower Texans at arm’s length.

Bonnen broke the law, but let’s not prosecute him

BLOGGER’S NOTE: This blog post was published initially on the KETR-FM website.

I guess the verdict is in on Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s secret meeting with a right-wing activist.

The speaker likely broke a campaign finance law when he met with Empower Texans guru Michael Quinn Sullivan, offered up the names of 10 fellow Republican legislators that Empower Texans could try to defeat in the 2020 election and then offered the right-wing PAC a media pass, giving the PAC immediate access to House members working on the floor of the chamber.

The House General Investigating Committee issued the report, then closed its investigation.

What should happen now? My hope – and it’s just me speaking for myself – is that Bonnen can retire quietly at the end of next year and disappear into the tall grass, never to be seen or heard from again in public life. There need not be a criminal investigation.

General Investigating Committee Chairman Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican, suggested that the report precludes any criminal investigation, even though Bonnen likely broke the law.

According to the Texas Tribune: Bonnen “likely violated” a section of the Texas Government Code, according to Meyer, who was reading from the report … — but advisers in the report said the law provided no “independent statutory consequences” for a state official who breaches it.

That section states that a state officer or employee should not “accept or solicit any gift, favor or service that might reasonably tend to influence the officer or employee in the discharge of official duties, or that the officer or employee knows or should know is being offered with the intent to influence the officer’s or employee’s official conduct.

I get all that. Here’s the deal, though: Bonnen took a lot of political heat and pushback from his fellow Republicans, about 30 of whom demanded he resign the House speakership. He at first denied the meeting with Sullivan. Then Sullivan produced a recording of the meeting. He outed Bonnen, who then announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to his House seat in Angleton in 2020.

Good riddance! That ought to be enough of a punishment for the speaker who double-crossed his supposed allies in the Texas House of Representatives.

As the saying goes: This case is closed. Let’s move on and let the next Texas House of Representatives select a speaker who will remain faithful to any pledge he or she makes to work with his colleagues and avoid stabbing them in the back.

With new speaker coming up, here’s my wish for next session

Texas is going to have a new state House of Representatives speaker when the next Legislature convenes in January 2021. The matter that got the current speaker, Republican Dennis Bonnen of Angleton, into so much trouble has been well-chronicled … mostly.

I want to focus briefly on one matter that needs a bit more exposure: the promise to grant a political action committee media passes to the floor of the Texas House.

Bonnen and Empower Texans founder Michael Quinn Sullivan had a conversation that Sullivan recorded. Bonnen gave Sullivan the names of 10 GOP lawmakers who Sullivan could target in the 2020 legislative election. He also promised to give Sullivan’s group media credentials, enabling Empower Texans to lobby legislators on the House floor.

That is a seriously bad move by the speaker, who decided against seeking re-election next year.

If Republicans keep control of the House, the next GOP speaker needs to ensure he or she does not cross that line. If Democrats take control of the House, which is a possibility, then the next Democratic speaker must avoid that line as well.

Empower Texans trumpets itself as a “news” organization, that it purports to report news on its various information platforms. It is no such thing. It is a strong advocacy group that promotes a rigid ideology. They are repugnant to me personally.

It would be equally wrong for a group such as, say, Planned Parenthood or the American Civil Liberties Union or any other progressive political activist group to be granted that kind of access to legislators.

It was bad enough that Bonnen betrayed his GOP colleagues by offering up the names of 10 of them to appear on Empower Texans’ hit list. It was equally improper for Bonnen to promise media passes to a PAC whose mission is to turn the Legislature into a mouthpiece that echoes Empower Texans’ right-wing agenda.

May the next speaker — and those who come later — learn from this sorry example of a political double-cross.

Hoping that Empower Texans has suffered a mortal wound

As I survey the lingering damage done by the downfall of Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, I am left to hope that a good bit of collateral damage has been inflicted on a key principal in that fiasco.

That would be Empower Texans and the political action committee’s founder/guru/main man Michael Quinn Sullivan.

Sullivan met in June with Bonnen, who delivered him the names of 10 Republican legislators who Empower Texans could target in the 2020 election. Bonnen didn’t know it in the moment, but Sullivan plunged a knife into his back by recording the conversation.

Bonnen offered Sullivan’s right-wing lobbying group access on the House floor by issuing it “media” passes. Empower Texans is by no stretch of the imagination a media outlet. It is an advocacy group that seeks to bend the Legislature to its rigid ideology.

Bonnen denied initially the leaked reports about giving up the legislators to Sullivan, who then produced the recording of Bonnen doing precisely what Sullivan said he did.

Bonnen was toast. Many of his fellow GOP lawmakers called for his resignation. Bonnen didn’t quit, but did the next best thing: He announced he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2020 to his Angleton House seat.

My strong hope is that Empower Texas becomes a PAC non grata among Texas legislators. Democrats already detest Empower Texans and Sullivan. So do a number of moderate Texas Republicans; and, yes, there are some moderates among GOP legislators’ ranks, as I happen to know some of them.

Sullivan betrayed Bonnen, who in turn betrayed his Republican colleagues, many of whom supported his election as speaker at the start of the 2019 Texas Legislature.

Bonnen will be gone from the 2021 Legislature. Empower Texans, which has sought to meddle in local politics for too long already, needs to be gone as well.

If I were a Republican Texas legislator, I damn sure wouldn’t trust Michael Quinn Sullivan as far as I could throw him.