State Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock has resigned as chair of the Texas House GOP Caucus amid allegations that he and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen planned to politically target members from their own party in the 2020 primaries.
Burrows' departure marks the largest fallout yet since the accusations surfaced.
On Friday, the caucus executive committee sent an email to members saying that it had "met and accepted" Burrows' resignation as caucus chair. The email, which also announced that state Rep. Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth had been elevated from vice chair to chair of the caucus, confirmed what two sources had told The Texas Tribune earlier Friday.
Bonnen said in a statement that Burrows, who has served in the House since 2015, "was a strong leader for the caucus." Bonnen added: "I respect his decision and I remain committed to strengthening our majority."
Over the past few weeks, House Republicans have grappled with allegations made by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a hardline conservative activist who heads Empower Texans, against the speaker and Burrows, one of Bonnen's top lieutenants.
In July, Sullivan accused Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, and Burrows of offering Empower Texans media access to the House in 2021 if the group targeted 10 GOP members in 2020. According to Sullivan, Bonnen left the room during a June 12 meeting at the Texas Capitol before Burrows listed off the 10 members. Sullivan has since revealed he secretly recorded the meeting, and although he hasn't yet released it publicly, various Republicans who have listened to it say the audio largely confirms Sullivan's allegations.
Bonnen initially pushed back against the allegations, though he has since apologized for saying "terrible things" during the June 12 meeting. He's also called on Sullivan to release the entire recording.
Burrows, meanwhile, has not yet publicly responded to the allegations — which had prompted some of his colleagues to express private frustration with the fact that their caucus leader was largely remaining silent on the matter.
Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty first reported that Burrows had resigned as caucus chair.
After news of Burrows' resignation, Sullivan posted on Twitter a recap of what all has unfolded over the past three weeks from his vantage point. "Hypocrisy, unethical offers, denials, lies, and now a resignation," Sullivan tweeted. "Only thing left in this saga is a cover-up."
The allegations, meanwhile, have prompted the Texas Rangers to launch an "initial inquiry" into that June meeting between Sullivan, Bonnen and Burrows. The issue was punted to the state agency by the House General Investigating Committee earlier this week. It's unclear whether Sullivan's allegations will demonstrate "reasonable suspicion" that an offense occurred, in which case the matter would then get handed off to a prosecuting attorney.
Texas Democrats, meanwhile, have seized the allegations among Republicans ahead of an election cycle that could narrow, or even flip, the GOP majority in the House. Last week, the state party sued over the allegations, arguing that Sullivan, Burrows and Bonnen engaged in serious campaign violations during their June meeting. And on Friday, the party's executive director, Manny Garcia, framed Burrows' resignation as the latest in the GOP being "plagued with a deepening scandal."
"Where there is smoke, there is fire," Garcia said in a statement. "Texans deserve full transparency. It's time for the full recording to be released."
Caucus members must elect a new vice chair of the caucus within 30 days, according to caucus bylaws. The executive committee's email to members Friday afternoon said the election would conclude on Sept. 13. Klick will serve as chair until the next biennial election of officers ahead of the 2021 legislative session. State Rep. Dan Huberty of Houston serves as the caucus’ treasurer. And state Rep. Craig Goldman of Fort Worth serves as secretary.