Dade Phelan Doesn't Need 46 Republicans
Who Signed Partisan Pledge to Keep Gavel

Capitol Inside
June 1, 2024

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan is the solid betting favorite in his bid for a third term with the gavel as long as the Democrats are united behind him regardless of whether he can muster 76 votes or more in the GOP caucus before the leadership election in January.

Nearly four dozen current and presumptive Republican representatives may have secured themselves seats at the end of the bench as the wages of a power grab on Friday when they vowed together to oppose any speaker contenders who plan to have Democrats leading committees in 2025.

Forty-five Republicans who are favored to win in November penned their names to a pledge to limit votes in the speaker's election to candidates who promise to exclude Democrats from the House committee chairmanship roster next year.

"In a collective effort to respond to Republican voters and reform the Texas House, we will only vote for a candidate for speaker pursuant to the Platform and the Caucus by-Laws who will only appoint Republicans as committee chairs," the lawmakers declared in a letter they posted on X.

The Beaumont Republican who's led the lower chamber since the start of 2021 would like to rally a sufficient number of votes in the party caucus to win another term as speaker without the need for Democrats in his corner. But Phelan also knows that the Democrats are going to decide who the winning GOP candidate will be if they keep a united front and Republicans remain hopelessly divided like they are now more than ever now in the primary runoff election's wake.

The partisan purity pledge is a high-stakes gamble that's loaded with the potential to backfire in light of the fact that Phelan doesn't need the Republicans who signed it to claim another term as speaker. The math is simple.

The GOP has a current advantage in House seats with an 86-62 edge on Democrats. If the partisan ratio remains the same in the general election like it could be, a Republican would only need 14 GOP colleagues in his or her corner to win the leadership election on the floor in the state Capitol's west wing in 2025 if they have the Democrats' unanimous support.

A united front among Democrats could spawn a competition among Republicans who aren't afraid of the conservative base for minority party votes in the speaker's election next year. One potential contender - GOP State Rep. James Frank of Wichita Falls - might have a chance to compete for Democrat votes after pumping several up in social media posts on lawmakers who will have to step up to fill a void that will be left by GOP State Rep. Stephanie Klick's departure after losing to David Lowe of Fort Worth in overtime this week.

Klick was one of 13 Phelan allies who lost in the March primary election or the runoff on Tuesday. A total of 14 House Republicans were ousted in the first or second rounds. All of the challengers who won in March and May did so by bashing Phelan. All but one of the GOP members who fell voted to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton a year ago.

All of the Republican nominees who knocked off incumbents inked their signatures to the letter on the banning of Democratic chairs. Eight Republicans who won nominations in open House races signed the document as well - giving its organizers a total of 22 signatures in the push to expand GOP members' clout by taking it away from Democratic colleagues.

Plano Republican Steve Kinard gave the anti-Democratic chairs letter signers a 46th signature as the nominee and slight underdog in a House district where a freshman Democrat is seeking re-election after a narrow win in 2022. The names of eight Republicans who claimed nominations in open House contests appear on the letter as well. Twenty-three current House members signed the pledge as well.

Phelan could try to remake himself into right-winger in the coming months in a curtsy to conservatives for the sake of amassing 76 votes or more in the GOP Caucus. He would be kissing the Democrats' support goodbye for good in such a scenario.

Phelan's most likely path back to the dais would be to lock up the Democrats like he and other Republican speakers here have done in every regular session for the past 15 years. Getting 14 GOP votes could be a walk in the park for Phelan.

Consider this. Phelan has 18 GOP colleagues who are current committee chairs returning for 2025 barring unforeseen upsets in the fall. Two standing panel chiefs - State Reps. J.M. Lozano of Kingsville and Tom Oliverson of Cypress - had turned against Phelan before the March vote with the failed Paxton impeachment as their chief grievance.

Oliverson, the Insurance Committee chairman on Phelan's watch. announced as a candidate for speaker before the March primary election. Oliverson blasted Phelan for sharing power and the lead role in the Paxton impeachment even though the Houston-area lawmaker was the only House member to skip the vote on the AG's fate as a result of a prior engagement that was a higher priority for him. Oliverson reaffirmed his plans to run for speaker and intensified his attacks in the immediate aftermath of Phelan's historic victory in the runoff vote.

But State Rep. Briscoe Cain of Deer Park was the only current chair to sign the no-Democrats pledge in a move that could cost him the leadership post that he has now as the chairman of the Agriculture & Livestock Committee. Cain served as the Elections Committee chair during Phelan's first term as speaker.

That leaves 15 current chairs who've remained loyal to Phelan up to now coming back for more in 2025. They face the decision now on whether they will do whatever it takes to please the far right or be content with the powerful positions they have now with promotions for some to more prestigious chairs than some have now.

"It is now clear that @DadePhelan cannot get to the Speakership through the caucus rules," State Rep. Brian Harrison of Midlothian contended on Friday in a post on X to trumpet the pledge.

The point is well taken but appears to be irrelevant given the fact that Democrats have votes in the official speaker's election on the floor of the House on the regular session's opening day.

more to come ...







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