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Texas GOP convention kicks off with party leaders attacking Speaker Dade Phelan

Dan Patrick, Lt. Governor of Texas, speaks at the 2024 Texas State Republican Convention in San Antonio, Texas on May 23, 2024.
Bryan Olin Dozier/Bryan Olin Dozier via Reuters Co
Dan Patrick, Lt. Governor of Texas, speaks at the 2024 Texas State Republican Convention in San Antonio, Texas on May 23, 2024.

SAN ANTONIO — Several top state Republican officials took aim at Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan on Thursday as the state party kicked off its biennial convention, intensifying the Texas GOP civil war days ahead of Phelan’s primary runoff.

Party Chair Matt Rinaldi, Lt. Gov.Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton were the morning’s star speakers. All three of them called for a change of leadership in the Texas House.

Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont, is fighting for his political life in a primary that culminates next week. Despite a series of GOP wins under Phelan’s leadership, including the state’s abortion ban, critics say Phelan’s tenure hasn’t been conservative enough.

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The House impeached Paxton last year and rejected school vouchers and other Republican Party of Texas priorities, leading members of the more conservative faction of the party to blame Phelan. They accuse him of handing control of the House to Democrats.

“As lieutenant governor, I do not want to run the House, but I want a conservative Republican to be speaker who will run the House,” said Patrick, who oversees the Senate, which has a more conservative reputation than the lower chamber.

Addressing the convention hall, Patrick said Republicans need to stop giving Democrats power to help decide the speaker. Currently, all members of the House vote on the speaker, meaning that Democrats regularly play a major role in deciding who will lead the chamber — paving the way for a more moderate Republican.

“I mean, what do you all work for, to let the House be run by Democrats?” Patrick said.

Patrick called for House Republicans to follow the caucus rules “that say only Republicans can pick the speaker.” He said 76 Republicans, the equivalent of a majority in the House, should pick the speaker.

“Dade Phelan was twice selected by a supermajority of the House Republican Caucus as their candidate for speaker prior to being elected Speaker by the full Texas House,” Phelan spokesperson Cait Wittman told the Tribune. “This is exactly the process that is already in place.”

Phelan, who was censured by the Texas GOP in February, did not attend the convention Thursday.

Patrick, who openly feuded with Phelan during the legislative session, has been aggressive in trying to get him booted out of office. At the end of last month, Patrick’s campaign gave $100,000 to Phelan’s primary runoff challenger, David Covey, part of a crop of millions in donations and third-party dollars that have made the race one of the most, if not the most, expensive state House races in Texas history.

Although Phelan reelection is in question, he’s already facing a speakership challenge from state Rep. Tom Oliverson, a Republican from Cypress who is a neighbor of and shares a consultant with Patrick. Oliverson is also one of Phelan’s committee chairs.

Rinaldi, who is not running for reelection as chair, attacked Phelan by name and shouted out Oliverson for making the state party priority of banning Democrats from committee chairmanships part of his campaign platform, one facet of Republicans’ plan to reduce the influence of Democratic members over House lawmaking.

“Last year, House Speaker Dade Phelan handed political power in the Texas House to Democrats,” Rinaldi said. “He went to war with the Texas GOP, lieutenant governor and Texas Senate and, without process or evidence, impeached the best Republican attorney general in the nation.”

“In the House, we actually have a candidate for speaker, in Dr. Tom Oliverson, who’s made sole Republican control of committees a central plank in his platform,” he continued.

In Paxton’s speech, he immediately attacked Phelan, accusing him of killing border security, property tax relief, school choice and election integrity bills last year.

“Dade’s plan, and the plan of his Democratic cohorts in the Texas House and the plan of the Biden administration, failed dramatically,” Paxton said. “Now, almost exactly a year later, I am still the Texas attorney general, and Dade Phelan is about to lose not only the speakership, but also his House seat.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/05/23/texas-republican-convention-dade-phelan/.