Texas GOP censures House Speaker Dade Phelan

In a near-unanimous vote, the Texas GOP’s State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) approved an official censure resolution against House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) at its Saturday meeting.

The censure appeared to be in the cards, despite some delays. It stems from two similar resolutions passed last year by two county GOPs in Phelan’s district: Orange and Jasper.

The Orange County GOP’s resolution passed back in July after the Texas House passed its marquee property tax reform plan in the state capital. The resolution cited a handful of grievances, including Phelan’s appointment of Democrats as committee chairs; acceptance of a point of order that killed a leadership priority border bill; hands-off approach to school choice legislation; and allowance of movement on a few Democrat-proposed progressive resolutions.

The Jasper County GOP’s version omitted some of these, but added the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton to the list of grievances. That resolution was the one eventually taken up by the SREC this weekend.

Passed by a vote of 55 to four with four abstentions, the final censure resolution names the Paxton impeachment, the Democratic chair appointments, the border bill point of order, and the school choice grievance as the offenses the body deemed worthy of the condemnation. Rule 44 of the Texas GOP’s rules allows the party to officially drop its neutrality position in a primary — something Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi abandoned a while ago in Phelan’s race, endorsing his challenger David Covey last year.

Specifically, the party is now authorized to spend up to 12 percent of its general fund on opposing Phelan; in its January semiannual filing the party reported $330,000 cash-on-hand in its state campaign account.

“The Texas GOP is setting an example nationwide of how to take our party and country back,” Rinaldi said on social media after the censure’s passage.

During debate over the resolution, SREC Member Chris Breaux from Senate District (SD) 3, which includes Phelan’s House district, said, “I think out of everybody in this room I am the only one who can say I have been friends with Dade Phelan for most of my life. I’ve known Dade since we were teenagers [and] he’s always been a little bit of an arrogant jerk, but he’s also been very generous.” 

“Dade has been very generous to me personally in my political career, and he’s been wildly generous with Jefferson County and the Republican women’s groups there. If we were judging Dade based on his generosity, this could never pass. But we’re not. We’re voting based on what he’s done that violated our rules. I wish I could support Dade Phelan in this but I can’t. He’s wrong and he’s been obstinate in his wrongness.”

Joe Pojman, president of the Texas Alliance for Life, spoke as proxy for an absent SREC member from SD 14 in defense of Phelan — specifically citing the pro-life laws passed under Phelan such as the Texas Heartbeat Act and the abortion trigger ban.

“Because of [those two bills] reported abortions [in Texas] have plummeted from thousands per month to zero,” Pojman said. “All 23 abortion facilities in Texas have stopped performing abortions [and] the industry has collapsed. Dade Phelan is the most pro-life this state has had, certainly in modern times.”

Phelan spokesperson Cait Wittman responded to the censure, stating, “This is the same organization that rolled out the red carpet for a group of Neo-Nazis, refused to disassociate from anti-Semitic groups and balked at formally condemning a known sexual predator before he was ousted from the Texas House.” 

“The SREC has lost its moral authority and is no longer representative of the views of the Party as a whole.”

At its Saturday meeting, the SREC approved a different resolution condemning antisemitism and forbidding the party’s association with “individuals or groups which espouse anti-Semitism or support for attacks on Israel” — that language was stripped from a previous resolution in December at a particularly hairy SREC meeting. That fight came in the aftermath of an October meeting between conservative consultant Pale Horse Strategies — whose backers and subsidiaries have given large sums of money to the party, including through its Defend Texas Liberty PAC — and right-wing gadfly and antisemitic commentator Nick Fuentes.

This chapter is another in the long string of skirmishes over the direction of the GOP in Texas, with competing factions engaged in rhetorical trench warfare — trying to gain inches of ground here and defend inches of ground there.

It’s a slow buildup to the conclusion of this intra-GOP battle, the 2024 primary that looms less than a month out — at which point results will show if fire accompanies the smoke, or if the kindling is just too damp for a spark to catch.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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