88th LegislatureElections 2022IssuesStatewide NewsRep. Tony Tinderholt Files for Texas House Speaker in First Challenge to Incumbent Dade Phelan

Tinderholt opposed Speaker Dade Phelan's appointment of Democratic committee chairs during the 87th Legislature.
November 4, 2022
Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) is facing the first official challenge to his leadership in the upcoming legislative session after Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) filed documents to run for speaker of the Texas House.

Tinderholt, a combat veteran and member of the Legislature since 2015, filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission on Friday morning to officially launch his candidacy for the state’s third most powerful position.

“Will the priority legislation of the Republican Party of Texas receive a vote on the Texas House floor? The truth is, we have no idea with our current speaker in control. In fact, most Republicans will tell you that they fully expect many important Republicans policies to die at the hands of liberal committee chairs appointed by Speaker Phelan,” Tinderholt said in a news release.

He referenced a proposition passed by Republican primary voters in March to preclude Democrats from committee chairmanships.

“In conversations with many members of the Texas House it was revealed that some of them haven’t had a one-on-one conversation with our current speaker since the end of special session last year,” Tinderholt said. “It is clear that Texas Republicans need new leadership who will fight for our values. I am running for Speaker of the Texas House to ensure we do the will of our voters and make Texas an even better state.”

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Dennis Sherrard is Tinderholt’s Democratic opponent in his home district on Election Day, but the seat is favorable ground for Republicans and Tinderholt has strong odds of reelection. The district is rated R-58% on The Texan’s Texas Partisan Index.

Tinderholt is centering his candidacy for speaker on the position that Democrats should be effectively excluded from committee chairmanships due to the chamber’s strong Republican majority. Phelan appointed 13 Democrats to committee chairmanships in February 2021 at the beginning of last year’s regular session.

In December 2020, Tinderholt joined Slaton, Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg), and Rep. Jeff Cason (R-Bedford) in calling on Phelan to appoint only GOP lawmakers to committee chairmanships. Biedermann and Cason did not seek reelection and will depart the Legislature in January.

When the Texas House debated its rules for the 87th Legislature, Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City) twice proposed a rule to require the speaker to appoint only those from the ruling party to committee chairmanships. Even Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), who is regarded as one of the most conservative lawmakers in the Texas House, opposed the move.

Cain commented in statements recorded in the chamber’s journal that even some Democrats “vote more conservatively” than Republicans, and he was wary of making the Texas Legislature function like the U.S. Congress.

“I cannot vote for this amendment, not because I support the values of the Democratic Party, not because I disagree with the concept found in this amendment. I cannot support this amendment because the amendment takes us one step closer to looking like Washington, D.C.,” Cain stated.

Tinderholt was among only five state representatives who voted in favor of Slaton’s amendments, which also included Biedermann, Cason, Slaton, and Rep. Phil Stephenson (R-Wharton). Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) recorded in the House journal that he would have voted in favor of it. Middleton is running unopposed to become the state senator for Senate District 11.

Stephenson was the only incumbent in the Texas House to lose in the Republican runoff in May of this year. Prior to his loss, he reused Gov. Greg Abbott’s endorsement from a previous year, which is a faux pas during an election cycle. Abbott then endorsed his opponent, Stan Kitzman, who defeated Stephenson.

In other words, Tinderholt and Slaton are the only ones returning to the Texas House for the 88th Legislature who voted for the amendment to preclude the minority party from chairmanships.

After Democrats fled Austin during the regular session last year to block the Election Integrity Protection Act, Tinderholt filed a resolution during the first special session to allow the House to strip them of their committee chair assignments if they did it again, among other consequences. Phelan referred the proposal to the House Administration Committee, where it was not considered. Democrats broke quorum again and the Legislature did not pass the election integrity bill until a quorum was restored in August 2021.

Tinderholt also favored an interpretation of the chamber’s rules that would have allowed lawmakers to vote on revoking Democrats’ chairmanships for breaking quorum. Republican Party of Texas (RPT) Chairman Matt Rinaldi took things a step further, contending that the Texas Constitution gives the speaker the authority to do so unilaterally.

In fact, delegates at the RPT’s convention in June passed a resolution making a prohibition on Democratic committee chairs a legislative priority for the party.

Another one of the RPT’s legislative priorities is a prohibition on procedures designed to change the sex of a minor. Tinderholt is among those who have pushed back against the idea that children can identify with a gender other than their biological sex.

He was on the list of those who supported a law authored by Rep. Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) to require public school students to compete in sports based on their biological sex rather than their gender identity. An exception is made for girls who wish to compete in sports that do not have female teams available.

A contest between Phelan and Tinderholt will likely be uncomfortable for staunch conservatives in the Legislature who may be inclined to support Tinderholt based on policy. Voting against Phelan on day one of the session would not exactly be the start of a warm and fuzzy working relationship with the leadership — one lawmakers need to advance the priorities of their districts.

Support for Phelan can also have its advantages. Thirty committee chairs he appointed at the beginning of the last session, 11 of which are Democrats, were on the original list of people who supported him. 25 of the Democrats who went to Washington, D.C. after breaking quorum were on the list of those who supported the speaker from the get-go.

Phelan won the speakership after entering the race late and fending off several already-established candidates from both parties in the fall of 2020. By mid-November, he had secured commitments of support from a set of 83 lawmakers including Democrats and Republicans. Slaton and Cason were the only ones who voted against him when the House formally elected Phelan on the first day of the regular session.

The day before Tinderholt’s announcement, newly-elected Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Waxahachie) tweeted, “There is an inverse relationship between Democrat (Texas Legislature) committee chairs and Republican priorities that pass.”

Nate Schatzline, the Republican nominee in House District 93, replied, “I couldn’t agree more.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the committee chairs that supported Phelan at the beginning of the last session.

Brad Johnson contributed to this report.

A copy of Tinderholt’s release can be found below.


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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."