Phelan made the remarks in an interview at the Capitol with Austin NBC affiliate KXAN as he previewed priorities he expects to see considered in the lower chamber.
“There are a lot of factors that go into the committee makeups and the chairmen and chairwomen of those committees, and one factor was those who are willing to work with me,” Phelan said.
This session, he appointed eight Democrats to chair standing committees in the House, a drop from 13 during the last session. Phelan faced criticism from the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) and some in his caucus for appointing Democrats at all, especially from Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), who mounted an unsuccessful bid for speaker at the beginning of the session.
Tinderholt’s brief race for speaker, which only received the support of Reps. Bryan Slaton (R-Royce City) and Nate Schatzline (R-Fort Worth), highlighted the clash between the RPT’s need to advance its priorities and Phelan’s desire to work across the aisle in the chamber.
Tinderholt and others unsuccessfully sought to include a section in the chamber’s rules barring the speaker from appointing Democrats to chair prominent committees, but Phelan shot down their efforts by sustaining points of order.
“We saw that with the quorum breaks last session, some were willing to come back and reestablish quorum to get the House back up and running so we could finish the people’s business. That was just one of the many factors,” Phelan said.
In 2021, Texas Democrats broke quorum during the regular legislative session and two special sessions in an effort to prevent the passage of a Republican election reform bill. Their efforts delayed the measure, but enough Democrats returned to give Republicans the quorum they needed to pass the bill. It became a point of contention in the Democratic caucus and with Republicans.
Phelan also commented on the border crisis, pointing to the escalating number of enforcement encounters and highlighting the nationwide significance of the issue.
“I think the Texas House is going to have a very innovative solution coming out very soon that we’re not ready to actually share right now,” Phelan said. “We’re going to have a very impactful discussion on border security. It is a concern not just across the state of Texas but across the entire country.”
Gov. Greg Abbott asked for $4.6 billion for Operation Lone Star border security measures in the 2024-2025 budget, an increase from the $4 billion appropriated during the 87th Legislature. During his State of the State address on Thursday, Abbott made border security an emergency item, which means lawmakers can consider it now instead of waiting for the constitutionally-required 60-day mark.
Opponents have characterized Operation Lone Star as an ineffective use of taxpayer dollars. In his interview, Phelan said that the House will hear from those with “boots on the ground” to measure the impact of the funding.
“I think we’re going to have the opportunity to test those federal laws very soon,” Phelan said.
“Care to share more?” the interviewer asked.
“No,” Phelan replied.
In an email to The Texan on Friday, Phelan’s office declined to comment.
After his colleagues handed Phelan the speaker’s gavel for a second session, he mentioned in his inaugural speech that many jurisdictions in Texas and others have called illegal immigration an “invasion.” However, Phelan did not signal whether he agrees with the characterization. Opponents bristle at the term and some even contend it contributes to racial animus.
In his KXAN interview, Phelan also listed health care, the estimated $33 billion budget surplus, school choice bills, likely campus security proposals, and the improbability of successful gun control legislation. The speaker predicted a robust debate on education, but noted that the definitions of school choice vary wildly from person to person.
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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."