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Texas’ 88th Legislature kicks off; Republican Dade Phelan reelected as House speaker

A man smiles and hugs three young boys as light pours in from the windows of the House gallery.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, hugs his family after being reelected speaker of the Texas House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The 88th Texas Legislature kicked off Tuesday afternoon, with members of the House and Senate sworn into office, along with the election of the chambers’ speakers.

In the House, Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, was re-elected speaker by a vote of 143-3.

In his speech, Phelan called for the lawmakers to work together to pass meaningful legislation for Texans.

“We will have divisions. Every session does. But that division does not have to define us,” Phelan told lawmakers after being sworn in as speaker. “We do our work here, together, and when we do that we just might be surprised to find out how much we have in common.”

Phelan also vowed to prevent Texas politics to resemble the constant gridlock in Congress.

Addressing the freshman class, Phelan asked them to "not confuse this body with the one in Washington, D.C."

"After watching Congress attempt to function last week, I cannot imagine why some want Texas to be like D.C.,” he said, referencing the marathonic election for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In his speech, Phelan vowed to lead the House in passing laws granting property tax relief for Texas homeowners. He also vowed to “rein” in district attorneys who do not “uphold the law.”

But Phelan’s election gave a glimpse of fractures within the Republican Party in Texas.

Some GOP representatives and constituents have criticized Phelan for continuing the practice of appointing Democrats as chairs of some House committees.

Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, unsuccessfully challenged Phelan. He said a change was needed and that “doing this right pales in comparison to the cost of this House repeating lost opportunities."

Jessie Carlson, a Republican who came from Corpus Christi to Austin to attend the opening session, said Phelan’s practice is hurting the Republican agenda.

Carlson was part of a group of people who wore red shirts reading “Ban Democratic Chairs!”

“We have complete and total control in the House and the Senate here in the state of Texas as far as the Republican Party’s concern is,” Carlson said. “But a lot of the bills, a lot of the stuff we want to get done … don’t happen because those bills will never make it out of committee because Phelan continues to put Democrats as those committee chairs.”

But Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, said she voted for Phelan because he wants to actually work with those who disagree with him.

“No matter who you are, where you come from, or the reasons you have for being here, Dade Phelan believes that members of this House deserve a fair chance to succeed,” Rose said.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, was elected speaker pro tem. As the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick is the leader of the chamber.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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