Phelan criticized for blocking amendments, appointing Democratic chairs

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan is facing criticism from conservatives for blocking amendments to House rules that would have prevented him from appointing Democrats to committee chairs.

Phelan, R-Beaumont, was first elected speaker by gaining the support of House Democrats in 2021. He again received their support on Tuesday, when he was re-elected by a vote of 145-3.

Of the House’s 150 members, 86 are Republicans; 64 are Democrats.

Republican voters have overwhelming voted against a process by which the Republican House speaker appoints Democrats as committee chairs. Banning the process is a key priority of the Republican Party of Texas.

Under Phelan’s leadership during the last legislative session, some of the most progressive Democrats were appointed chairs. They in turn blocked conservative bills from being considered. Elected Democrats also absconded to Washington, D.C., in the middle of session, protesting an election reform bill. Their actions cost taxpayers an estimated $1.5 million.

Gov. Greg Abbott called for their arrest, although none were ever arrested. Upon their return, Democrats successfully amended the election integrity bill, which Republicans passed and Abbott signed into law, weakening pre-existing law by lowering the charge for illegal voting from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor.

Phelan said the Texas legislature has an extensive committee process, “allowing for hundreds of riders, and hundreds of floor amendments,” with the House passing the last biennial budget in 2021 by a vote of 149-0.

But knowing hundreds of Texans had planned to attend a House rules debate and vote scheduled for Thursday, when state Rep. Bryan Slaton planned to introduce an amendment to ban Democratic chairs, Phelan moved the rules vote to a day earlier, Slaton said.

Phelan “and his allies moved successfully Wednesday to prevent the matter [Slaton’s amendment] from even getting to a vote on the floor,” The Texas Tribune reported. “They did it by passing a ‘housekeeping resolution’ earlier in the day that included a new section codifying a constitutional ban on using House resources for political purposes.”

“In his first act of defiance to Republican voters,” Phelan moved up the rules debate to Wednesday, Slaton tweeted. “He and his loyalists know that hundreds of Republican activists” had planned to come to Austin to watch the rules debate.”

State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, implemented procedural maneuvers to ban Slaton’s amendments from being introduced, which Phelan supported. This effectively prohibited debate or the amendments from being voted on.

"The Republican Speaker is taking the procedural position that restricting chairs to the majority party as every other state and congress does is using state resources for ‘political purposes’ and illegal," Republican Party of Texas Chairman Matt Rinaldi said. "This baseless and absurd ruling was made solely to protect Democrat power."

Slaton said he voted against the House rules “because they fail to stop the appointment of Democratic chairs” and Phelan “used bogus excuses to protect Democrats and prevent a vote on these issues. Texas voters deserve better.”

He told Texans to come to Austin anyway, saying, “Do not cancel a single bus. Your voice matters and you deserve to be heard.”

The Texas GOP and conservatives held a rally Thursday at the capitol demanding that Phelan not appoint Democratic chairs. They did so after Rinaldi issued a statement last fall explaining what was happing in the legislature.

“Imagine if Kevin McCarthy took over as Speaker and appointed Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff and AOC to Congressional leadership positions,” he said. “Republicans would be shocked and outraged. But that's what happens in Texas, and most people can't believe it.

“Texas Republicans appointed Democrats to about 40% of House leadership positions last session. Democrats then use those positions to slander Republicans as racists and ‘threats to democracy,’ kill GOP legislation and raise money to oppose Republicans in elections.

“Texans elected Republicans statewide by double digits and in both houses of the legislature because Republicans successfully made the case that Democrats shouldn't be in power,” he added. “They shouldn't turn around and hand over power to Democrats.”

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