On Saturday, the caucus voted 78 to 6 to back Phelan for the speakership. Phelan’s intra-party opposition, state Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), launched his challenge last month.
“I am deeply grateful to my Republican colleagues for selecting me to serve as their Texas House speaker nominee for a second term,” Phelan said in a statement.
“The 88th Texas Legislature will include important debates on issues ranging from property taxes to foster care, and I’m confident that our chamber and our caucus will lead the charge on policy proposals that better the lives of all Texans. Every member will play a role in our legislative process, and I look forward to earning the votes of all of my colleagues when the Legislature convenes on January 10.”
Caucus chairman, Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress), added, “With today’s selection process complete, members of the Texas House Republican Caucus are unified in our choice of Representative Dade Phelan as the highest officer in the House Chamber.”
“Under Speaker Phelan’s leadership in the 87th Session, the Texas House accomplished one of the most conservative sessions in our legislature’s history and we are confident this momentum will continue in the next session.”
It is unclear who the six legislators that supported Tinderholt were, but they presumably include Tinderholt himself as well as state Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City), who both nominated the challenger at the meeting and previously endorsed him against Phelan. The caucus vote is a secret ballot, so the votes are not disclosed publicly unless members do so themselves.
While a long way off from supplanting Phelan’s hold on the speakership, those opposed tripled the number of GOP opposition from last year, when only Slaton and retiring state Rep. Jeff Cason (R-Bedford) voted against him.
After the vote, Tinderholt said, “Today’s vote, while unsurprising, is disappointing. Because Dade Phelan has all the support of Democrats, Republicans fear the bully tactics of his team if they oppose him.”
“That being said, I am undeterred in my fight to ensure we have strong conservative leadership this session and look forward to the floor vote on the first day of session.”
State Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) nominated Phelan for the endorsement, stating, “As I said in my speech, Dade Phelan is the most conservative speaker in Texas history.”
“Anyone suggesting otherwise isn’t simply being disingenuous or misleading. To be clear: they are flat out lying to the people of Texas. Today we voted overwhelmingly to set the record straight.”
At the center of Tinderholt’s challenge to Phelan are two topics, one retrospective and the other forward-looking. Since the gavel struck the conclusion of the 87th Legislative Session, GOP legislators and figures began a robust argument over whether it was the “most conservative session in history.”
Under Phelan’s oversight, permitless carry passed and was signed into law, an issue that had barely moved in the years prior. The Legislature also passed both the Texas Heartbeat Act and then the Human Life Protection Act — colloquially known as the “trigger” ban — which became operational this summer when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
But some notable GOP-circle bills also died during the last session, such as a ban on gender modification of children; a ban on taxpayer-funded lobbying; and a prohibition against biological males competing in women’s sports, which eventually passed in the second special session last year. There was also a lack of movement in school choice legislation.
Those occurrences, along with the House Democrats’ two quorum breaks, jumpstarted the existing intra-GOP debate over whether the other party should be given committee chairmanships.
According to the Republican Party of Texas, 18 total House members have come out against appointing Democrats to chair committees — three times the number of those who voted for Tinderholt.
Phelan appointed 13 Democrats as committee chairs last session, 10 of which were on his original list of 84 supporters. Securing the speakership requires 76 votes, and Republicans will enter the 88th session with 85 members.
Last year, two of Slaton’s efforts failed, first to change the House rules to prohibit committee chairs from the minority party, and second to narrow the list of committees to which the minority party could be appointed. The wholesale ban received five votes while the more tailored approach received 17.
It is likely that another such fight will occur next year — this time with the quorum breaks as relevant background — and Tinderholt has said frequently that he’ll be taking the speaker vote to the House floor.
That sets the table for one explicit vote on Phelan’s speakership — and what some will view as an implicit one concerning the issue on which the speaker has shown little interest in budging. With 78 backers, Phelan is likely to secure a second term, but the number of members who vote to oppose Democratic committee chairs may grow larger than it was two years ago.
Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.
Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.