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Opinion: Michael Quinn Sullivan’s War On Moderate Conservatives

Michael Quinn Sullivan believes Democrats control the Texas legislature. Really.

That’s the premise of his new media endeavor, The Texas Heist. According to the trailer, the Texas House is secretly run by the minority party. Sullivan bases this on the actions of House Speaker Dade Phelan, who refused to break the long tradition of assigning some chairperson positions to the minority party. That action made him a traitor in the eyes of the extreme right, who ached for a complete political monopoly.

Sullivan is the publisher of the Texas Scorecard, which is nominally a journalism outlet. In reality, it’s the media mouthpiece of conservative advocacy groups backed by Christian nationalist oil and gas moguls Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks. The outlet started its life under the umbrella of Empower Texans. Sullivan was fined by the Texas Ethics Commission for failing to register as a lobbyist. His defense was that he was a journalist exercising his First Amendment rights, despite being the CEO of Empower Texans.

Since 2019, Sullivan has nursed an intense hatred of the Texas House. That’s the year two of his writers were granted media credentials to the Texas Senate, but not the lower chamber. Since then, it appears that Sullivan has considered the House to be entirely too liberal.

Unsurprisingly considering the backing of Dunn and Wilks, Sullivan is all in on Governor Greg Abbott’s school voucher proposal. However, that plan was blocked in the House by a coalition of rural Republicans. They fear that funneling state money into private schools would hurt their small districts. Those districts are often the community’s biggest employer and social hub.

Sullivan has consistently framed this as Republicans being corrupted by Democrats rather than rural representatives taking a stand on an issue that deeply affects their districts. In his analysis of the debate in April, he makes note that anti-voucher amendments are usually filed by Democrats. The fact that sometimes Democrats and Republicans occasionally agree on things doesn’t enter into his thinking.

Democrats in the legislature control nothing except a portion of the conversation. When the property tax debate was deadlocked between warring Republicans, Democrats put forward their own compromise plan that was fair to both sides. It also added renter relief, something that would have benefited the poorest Texans. That part was stripped out when the tax bill finally passed.

Democrats filibustered and fled Austin to preserve voting rights and access. Those bills passed anyway. Wendy Davis made her famous stand for abortion rights. They were stripped away regardless.

Nothing highlights the emptiness of Sullivan’s premise like the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton. Despite a myriad of legal woes, Paxton remains a far-right conservative darling because of his constant culture wars and lawsuits against the Biden Administration. Sullivan calls the impeachment “Democrat led.”

It’s not. Sixty Texas Republicans voted to impeach Paxton, a comfortable majority of them. There’s no reason to think that any of them were cajoled or forced into it by their Democratic colleagues. What would those Republicans even have to gain from such an act?

Sullivan makes his living by painting conservatives as an oppressed group under dire threat. He does this by framing situations in ludicrous terms. Instead of acknowledging that  moderate Republicans are just not in agreement with him on issues, he spins a web of leftist corruption.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.

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