Cain Name in Speaker Race Conjecture
as Potential Bridge from RINOs to Right

Capitol Inside
July 1, 2024
  Texas House
Speaker Rankings
1 Dade Phelan
2 Shelby Slawson
3 Briscoe Cain
4 Todd Hunter
5 Tom Oliverson
6 Cody Harris
7 James Frank




State Rep. Briscoe Cain has sparked speculation on a potential bid for the Texas House's top leadership post at a time when Speaker Dade Phelan faces an uncertain future with the gavel after dodging a firestorm with a narrow win in the primary runoff election last month.

Cain - a Deer Park Republican in his fourth House term - hasn't said anything publicly about a race for speaker in an election that's still more than six months away. But Cain has revealed enough in private conversations to have GOP colleagues talking about him now as a possible contender for powerful leadership position that Phelan is seeking for a third time.

GOP State Rep. Tom Oliverson of Houston launched a campaign for speaker before the primary election in March. Phelan's detractors - from Attorney General Ken Paxton to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and even Donald Trump - were all predicting that far-right activist David Covey would oust the speaker in his hometown district when Oliverson set sights on the post with substantial fanfare. Oliverson said he plans to stay in the leadership race despite Phelan's eventual victory in overtime when he escaped lightning with 50.7 percent of the vote.

Republican State Rep. Shelby Slawson of Stephenville unleashed a blistering attack on Phelan the day before the primary runoff election on May 28. That set the stage for Slawson to toss her hat into the speaker's race almost immediately after Phelan prevailed in the runoff vote by a thread.

GOP State Reps. James Frank of Wichita Falls and Cody Harris of Palestine have both expressed interest behind the scenes in the leadership job that Phelan won initially in 2021. The field could swell if Phelan fails to show that he's locked the position down as the months tick away before the regular session that convenes in early 2025. The race could snowball if Phelan or another contender appear to be a cinch as the election gets closer.

Phelan is the clear favorite in the meantime in light of the fact that he would only need 14 Republican votes or less to prevail if Democrats remain united behind him and break even with the GOP or pick up seats on the House battlefield in November.

Cain may see himself as someone who could bring warring forces together in a chamber where the ruling Republicans are historically divided and effectively allowing Democrats to determine who the GOP speaker will be as a consequence. Phelan is the beneficiary of the party infighting - not the genesis - as conservative critics would have you believe.

Cain has been a novel hybrid - a conservative firebrand and outcast who Republican Dennis Bonnen befriended and mentored when he was the speaker in 2019. Cain scored his first major plum when Phelan appointed him as the Elections Committee chairman during the regular session in 2021.

After a tumultuous experience as the sponsor of a voting restrictions bill as the elections panel boss, Cain won an appointment from Phelan in 2023 to the chairmanship for the Agriculture & Livestock Committee. As a Harris County resident who's a lawyer and represents industrial areas like Baytown and LaPorte, Cain's selection as the farm panel chair raised eyebrows among major agricultural interests.

Cain remained loyal to the speaker who'd given him a chance to shine and to recover from fumbling with the elections legislation two years before. But Cain alienated conservatives who'd been his biggest fans with a vote last spring to impeach the state's three-time elected attorney general on charges of bribery and adultery.

Cain rubbed it in with an appointment from Phelan to the House board of managers who prosecuted the Paxton case at a trial in the Senate where they never appeared to have any chance whatsoever to prevail.

A pair of fellow Republicans - State Reps. J.M. Lozano of Kingsville and Gary Gates of Richmond - condemned the attack on Paxton after participating in it votes for his impeachment on the floor. Both apologized to the AG - and Gates even won a Paxton endorsement for a contested primary this year.

But Cain declined to seek redemption and faced Paxton's wrath with a primary challenger who the AG supported in House District 128. Cain emerged stronger than he could have done in a race without opposition - crushing Bianca Gracia as an activist for a Trump group with almost 70 percent of the vote in March.

Cain probably could forget about Democrats in a quest for speaker. That would force him to bring some 75 Republican colleagues into the fold to eliminate the need for Democratic support. That would be a first in the lower chamber in Austin. All of the three Republican speakers before Phelan won the leadership post with bipartisan support. All three had the same basic number of Democratic committee chairs.

But some conservatives - including Paxton - may not forgive Cain for putting a place on the leadership establishment team before them. Cain would have to have Democrats at that point.

more to come ...







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