87th LegislatureElections 2020State HouseThe Back MicThe Back Mic: A Timeline of the Race for Texas House Speaker

This week — a detailed look at the plot points in the race to replace outgoing Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
October 30, 2020

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Here’s a timeline detailing the contest for speaker of the Texas House, backlit by significant political scandal and the potential for a changing of the partisan guard in the state legislature’s lower chamber.

November 6, 2018: Democratic candidates make significant gains in the Texas House, securing 12 additional seats in the chamber and further narrowing the margin between the two parties from 95 Republicans and 55 Democrats, to 83 and 67.

November 12: Just days after the general election, Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) announces he’s secured the support of 109 of the 150 members of the Texas House in his bid for speaker, all but securing his first term in the position ahead of the 86th Legislative Session.

January 8, 2019: Bonnen is unanimously elected as speaker of the Texas House.

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June 12: The speaker and state Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) meet with conservative grassroots leader Michael Quinn Sullivan after the legislative session, during which Sullivan is presented with a list of 10 state representatives Bonnen wanted Sullivan’s group to target. Bonnen largely denies the allegations. 

August 9: A recording of the rumored meeting is released, backing up the story presented by Sullivan.

October 22: Bonnen announces he will not run for reelection to Texas House District 25, immediately spurring discussion of who would run to replace him as the leader of the lower chamber in 2021. 

October 23, 2020: Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) is the first to file paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for speaker. 

October 25: Members of the Texas House Republican Caucus gather, over 40 in total, to discuss the speaker’s race in light of the general election. Two primary factions, identified as “Team Texas” and “Team Bonnen,” emerge as the powerhouses from which initial GOP candidates will be drawn.

October 26: Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) becomes the second candidate, and Democrat, to announce their candidacy. 

October 28: Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg) announces his departure from the Texas House Freedom Caucus, due in part to a disagreement over a rumored list of the caucus’ preferred speaker candidates. 

Meanwhile, the Harris County Democratic delegation pens a letter in support of Thompson, signed by Reps. Alma Allen (D-Houston), Jarvis Johnson (D-Houston), Gina Calanni (D-Katy), Armando Walle (D-Houston), Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston), Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Gene Wu (D-Houston), Ana Hernandez (D-Houston), Mary Ann Perez (D-Houston), Anna Eastman (D-Houston), Christina Morales (D-Houston), Hubert Vo (D-Houston), Shawn Thierry (D-Houston), and Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). 

October 29: Reps. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), John Cyrier (R-Lockhart), Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria), and Oscar Longoria (D-Mission) all announce their candidacies for the speakership. 

The Texas Black Legislative Caucus throws its support behind Thompson, adding Reps. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio), Rhetta Bowers (D-Garland), Sheryl Cole (D-Austin), Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas), Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City), Toni Rose (D-Dallas), and Carl Sherman (D-DeSoto) to her list of supporters. 

Notably, caucus member and Republican Rep. James White’s (R-Hillister) name is absent from the letter.

October 30: Cyrier announces he will back Morrison’s candidacy, effectively dropping out of the race.

November 1: Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) makes his long-awaited entrance into the speaker’s race.

November 3: Bonnen’s speaker pro tempore, Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), throws his hat in the ring. Last year, Bonnen told the Austin American-Statesman, “I think Texas would be very blessed if there was a Democrat majority and Joe Moody wanted to lead the House,” if Democrats were to take the Texas House in the future.

Morrison announces she will support Ashby in the race, opting to remove herself from the running.

Republicans maintain control of the Texas House, and the status quo of an 83 to 67 partisan divide remains intact.

November 4: Longoria drops out of the race, citing Republican victories from the night before.

Phelan holds a press conference at the state capitol, where he announces a coalition of 83 state representatives who have backed his speakership. Phelan declares the race “over.”

Ashby announces he is withdrawing from the speaker race to support Morrison.

November 5: Phelan makes known on social media his cohort of supporters has grown to exceed 100 and announces Tommy Williams, a former state legislator in both the House and Senate and Abbott senior advisor, will head his speaker transition team.

Morrison drops out of the race and announces her endorsement of Phelan’s candidacy, telling the Texas Tribune, “My team and I are uniting the Republican Caucus with our support of Dade Phelan.”

November 9: In an email to supporters, Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allen West says the party will “not support, nor accept, State Rep. Dade Phelan as Speaker of the Texas House,” calling him a “Republican political traitor” and citing the speaker candidate’s intent to appoint Democratic lawmakers as committee chairs. West’s statements are met with critical responses from some Republican legislators, sparking intra-party conflict.

Phelan forms a bipartisan workgroup to address “legislative operations during the COVID-19 pandemic” ahead of the legislative session, tapping doctor and state Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress) as chair and Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), who chairs the House Public Health Committee, as vice-chair.

Reps. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), Donna Howard (D-Austin), Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth), Joe Moody (D-El Paso), Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), John Smithee (R-Amarillo), Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), John Turner (D-Dallas), and Armando Walle (D-Houston) are also chosen to contribute.

November 10: Governor Abbott releases a statement acknowledging Phelan’s ascension to the speakership.

“Congratulations to my friend, Dade Phelan, for securing the votes—including over 95% of the Republican caucus—to become the next Speaker of the Texas House,” said Abbott. “A strong conservative, Dade has a proven record of fighting for the lives and livelihoods of all Texans, having played a key role in authoring and passing critical legislation to bolster disaster relief and preparedness following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.”


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McKenzie DiLullo

McKenzie DiLullo serves as Senior Editor and resident plate-spinner for The Texan. Previously, she worked as State Representative Kyle Biedermann’s Capitol Director during the 85th legislative session before moving to Fort Worth to manage Senator Konni Burton’s campaign. In her free time, you might find her enjoying dog memes, staring at mountains, or proctoring personality tests.