What a crazy few years it has been for Dennis Bonnen.
Bonnen went from a state lawmaker in Angleton to the most powerful legislator in the state to announcing he would not seek re-election in less than two years.
Not even a movie would try that as a script.
Yet it happened, and it serves as a reminder the power and responsibility that lies with the media — and not just the major media.
For those not paying attention, Bonnen announced two weeks ago he would not run for another term in the state House at the urging of many Republican lawmakers. The pressure from his own party came after an audio recording between Bonnen and a reporter was released. In the recording, Bonnen asked the reporter to sway public opinion with his reporting. What was likely most troubling to his fellow Republicans is Bonnen asked the reporter to write negative stories about two Republicans Bonnen apparently felt weren’t conservative enough.
Even the Republicans Bonnen supported could see the problem there — one step out of control and they could easily be next.
For months Bonnen claimed he said nothing wrong to the reporter and even continued those claims once the recording was released. It was only when his fellow lawmakers began to complain that Bonnen changed his tune.
This story reminded me about the power of media, even small media. While I don’t necessarily agree with the way this reporter got information and then held it over the speaker’s head for months, ultimately the truth was on his side. And the truth was more than Bonnen could survive.
It also reminded me of another story from years gone by. I wish I could say my paper was responsible, but it wasn’t. Instead it was a rabble rouser who produced what he called a newspaper from his own garage and distributed by paying to mail it to people in the area.
This was in a very left-leaning area of North Carolina, and the reporter was a vocal conservative. To call what he produced a newspaper is probably stretching the truth. More often, it was his own personal rantings against the Democrats. And while I doubt he changed many minds, he did have an audience because he took his own time to produce it and his own money to share it.
So anyway, this guy spins out his paper one week with a story about how the congressman representing the area was using money being donated to a nonprofit he opened to benefit himself and his family and not the children it was intended for.
When he first reported it, most people just laughed it off — more rantings from a mad man. But someone in the know was clearly feeding information because week after week he wrote about it. Often it was repeating the same claims, but there were stories with a little more information.
And because he was insistent on telling the story over and over, eventually people began paying attention. The congressman — Frank Ballance — denied it, but it wasn’t long before other media organizations like my paper, The Associated Press and others began asking questions.
Those questions led to a little digging, formal requests for information and eventually the truth. The truth was this crazy man working out of his garage was right all the time. And the truth was Frank Ballance was abusing the system to benefit his family and himself.
Ballance was eventually forced to resign and pled guilty to mail fraud and money laundering and was sentenced to jail time.
As far as the 1st Congressional District in North Carolina. It was won by another liberal Democrat, G.K. Butterfield, who holds the seat to this day.
That will happen in Texas soon, too. Another Republican will become the next speaker and not a whole lot will change. But some of us will remember, but even the little guy in the media can make a difference even if the politicians don’t believe it.