Whatever happens on Tuesday, Dade Phelan’s speakership is over. Everyone knows it.

In multiple conversations with Republican lawmakers, including those Phelan considers to be loyalists, every single one believes his speakership is not only a distraction but a detriment. Now, do not read this as some sudden conversion of “RINOs” to stalwart conservative champions.

The concerns they raise about Phelan are pragmatic.

Most importantly, they see Phelan as a symptom of the problem they describe as “Dennis Bonnen.” When the disgraced former House Speaker was forced to resign from office in 2019, he and his cronies installed Phelan as their patsy. His performance has reflected that reality. The Democrat committee chairs stayed in place, and conservative priorities were stalled.

Old boss, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The problem is that the Bonnen-Phelan clan has been playing House members against the Senate and the governor as the former speaker builds up his lobby practice.

Few of the House members were particularly bothered by Phelan’s apparent intoxication at the dais late in the session. But they don’t like the stone-sober blame he has cast on them for the death of the comprehensive border security bill… a death Phelan oversaw with parliamentary zeal.

Why kill it at all? Because the Bonnen-Phelan partnership requires the support of Democrats. It is why Bonnen-Phelan orchestrated the 2021 reduction in election crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. When the pressure to undo that damage in 2023 became too much to bear, Bonnen-Phelan gave the Democrats the impeachment of Ken Paxton and the death of House Bill 20.

To a man and woman, House members have noted Phelan’s internal constitution is such that should he win the primary and return in 2025 as speaker, he will be on a scorched-earth mission against the priorities of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. 

They are, bluntly, tired of it.

Thanks to Bonnen-Phelan, a significant number of members have had to deal with expensive primaries based on those fights. Sure, most will win… but in working to gain re-election, they lose face in their communities in a way not even a victory can makeover.

But some will not win. And some, like Glenn Rogers of Graford, have engaged in a very public (and very embarrassing) emotional and mental breakdown in confronting their primary challenges. 

That’s not the bargain a speaker—or a speaker coalition—makes with the rank-and-file members. Internally, the number one job of any Speaker of the Texas House is to protect the members, especially the members of the speaker’s party. Not a single Republican feels protected. They are exposed, like the proverbial king in the invisible cloak.

But Bonnen-Phelan is not done yet. Despite lobbyists like former Gov. Rick Perry’s embarrassing himself with stump speeches for Dade in Beaumont (‘being a RINO is sexy’), the coalition is already pivoting.

Lawmakers close to the speaker say that Dustin Burrows of Lubbock and Cody Harris of Palestine are being positioned to take up the gavel on behalf of the Bonnen-Phelan machine in 2025. Both have enabled some of Bonnen-Phelan’s worst excesses while still managing to maintain the illusion of respectability with Abbott and Patrick.

But, these sources worry about how long the illusion lasts. Bonnen-Phelan will want retribution in 2025.

Old bosses, meet the newer boss, same as the old bosses?

Win or lose on Tuesday, Dade Phelan won’t be the speaker… But he and Dennis Bonnen still hope to be calling the shots. Whether that happens or not will be up to the message voters send on Tuesday.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."