Frank and Harris Names Emerge
as Slawson Top Phelan Threat

Capitol Inside
June 7, 2024

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has the inside lane to a third term as the west wing's most powerful leader in the wake of a primary runoff victory that knocked the steam out of record gains by conservatives in the first two votes here this year.

The closest potential contenders in the odds on the House leadership competition for 2025 include GOP State Reps. Tom Oliverson of Cypress and Shelby Slawson of Stephenville as the only two challengers who've announced bids for the gavel.
  Texas House
Speaker Rankings
1 Dade Phelan
2 Shelby Slawson
3 Tom Oliverson
4 Cody Harris
5 James Frank

At least two more Republicans have explored possible campaigns for House speaker in State Reps. James Frank of Wichita Falls and Cody Harris of Palestine. Harris and Frank have been making calls to test the waters according to sources in the statehouse beltway.

The list of potential competitors could grow in the next six months - or shrink - as the GOP majority navigates the turbulent waters of a civil war that Governor Greg Abbott and other major statewide officials sought to fuel with unprecedented targeting efforts in the first half of the 2024 election season in Texas.

Abbott posted a losing record in House races with incumbents in runoffs - racking up three wins and four losses in the OT vote last week. Abbott split even in the first and second rounds combined with a mark of 8-8 in fights featuring House Republicans. Abbott recorded five wins against six defeats in the overtime vote when open contests are figured in the equation.

But the governor lost four runoffs with incumbent representatives after winning only three in that critical category in overtime. And Abbott finished with an asterick on his record after waiting until the runoff before endorsing Rockwall Republican Katrina Pierson for a race she probably would have won with ease without Abbott's cheering and cash.

Attorney General Ken Paxton had a record of 8-3 in the runoff election including six wins in battles that had House Republicans on defense. Paxton deserves credit for Pierson that Abbott has forced him to share after enlisting her for the House race long before the initial election in March. The governor is trying to milk that with the late-train ride. But Paxton lost the most important contest by far on his long slate for the primary when Phelan beat David Covey with 50.7 percent of the vote in a race that the AG, Donald Trump and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick all said the speaker wouldn't win.

Phelan's one win overshadowed Abbott's bragging on how he secured a sufficient number of votes to pass a school choice bill after replacing moderate House Republicans with substantial experience with candidates from the far right. He's in position to win a third term as speaker. But he has no room for error and immense opportunity to fail.

Phelan may have little or no chance to claim a sufficient number of votes in the GOP Caucus to keep the post without Democrats' undivided support. But as long as Phelan can keep the Democrats united him like they were in 2021 and 2023, he would only need 14 Republican votes to win again if the partisan breakdown in the Legislature's lower chamber didn't change in the general election.

Phelan has massive advantages as the incumbent including the ability to woo loyalty with promises of committee chairmanships and other plum assignments if he remains in the dais in January. Once House members on the fence sense that Phelan can hang on, the vote could snowball in his favor. The fragile base he has now could evaporate if the Republicans sense blood and the incumbent's impending demise.

Oliverson gambled before the March 5 election that Phelan would lose his hometown race or be too badly damaged to keep a base intact if he did survive. Oliverson won some early accolades from conservatives in the House where he'd been a Phelan ally as the Insurance Committee chairman.

Slawson dipped her toes into the fray on the eve of the runoff election last week before confirming that she'd be running for speaker immediately after Phelan prevailed in round two. Slawson is ranked number two in the Texas House speaker rankings that Capitol Inside has compiled for June. Oliverson is third with Harris and Frank rounding out the top five.

Frank has chaired the Human Services Committee during terms with Phelan at the helm. Harris has been a Phelan ally and enforcer as the Local & Consent Committee chairman.

more to come ...







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