With Speaker Dade Phelan facing an uphill battle in his own re-election campaign at home, he says it’s inappropriate for candidates to announce their intention to run for speaker before the runoff.

Phelan, who came in second place to challenger David Covey in the March primary, will be on the ballot in a runoff election on May 28. 

Just last week, however, State Rep. Tom Oliverson (R–Cypress) officially kicked off the race to lead the chamber by announcing his candidacy, saying “Republican voters across Texas sent a strong and unmistakable signal that Texas needs a new paradigm.” He promised a series of reforms, including ending Phelan’s practice of awarding chairmanship positions to Democrats.

When asked about Oliverson’s candidacy during an interview with Austin-based Spectrum News, Phelan said “I think the timing is not appropriate,” with many of his colleagues—including Phelan himself—in runoffs.

While Oliverson declined to respond to Phelan’s charge, conservative members of the House say it’s time for a change.

“It was a very selfish comment for him to make. ‘I’m the speaker so no one can run against me until after the runoffs.’ That’s not true,” State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) told Texas Scorecard.

Tinderholt has been critical of Phelan’s speakership and ran against him at the beginning of last session. He was later barred by Phelan from asking questions in front of the body. 

“People are so frustrated and disappointed in him and his partnering with Democrats and killing Republican priorities that they want to run against him. He doesn’t get to dictate when people announce,” Tinderholt added.

State Rep. Nate Schatzline (R–Fort Worth) agreed. 

“What’s inappropriate is how the Texas House has operated under his leadership, as the voters enthusiastically confirmed earlier this month,” said Schatzline. “While I’m not endorsing any candidate yet, it’s clear Dade Phelan’s time as Speaker is over and it’s time for new leadership and to reform the Texas House.”

State Rep. Steve Toth (R–The Woodlands) said Phelan’s comments show that he is out of touch with Republican voters as well as members of the House.

“His own lieutenants have moved on. Dade showed his contempt for them when he doubled down on the impeachment scam (after the Senate rebuked him) and asked each of them to walk the plank for him. He’s done. His voice at this point is nothing more than political static,” said Toth.

“Dade Phelan’s failed liberal leadership team has been repudiated by the voters and change cannot come fast enough,” said State Rep. Brian Harrison (R–Midlothian). “Even some of Phelan’s lieutenants know the time for change is now. Texans want and deserve bold leadership with an agenda for liberty. I am proud to have led the effort against his failed leadership and to have helped elect many new conservatives who will put Texans first.”

It’s not just members of the House that are taking issue with Phelan’s position. 

“Of course it’s not inappropriate!” said Fran Rhodes, the president of True Texas Project, a grassroots organization with chapters across the state. “Dade Phelan is the current speaker of the House. That gives him no guarantees for the future. It’s not a lifetime appointment!”

“What’s inappropriate is that Dade thinks his reelection gives him first right of refusal. Is it or is it not the people’s house?” added the organization’s CEO Julie McCarty.

JoAnn Fleming, the executive director of Grassroots America: We The People, said it is “never too early to put a Majority Republican Texas House on a conservative, transparent footing with speaker candidates who will make solving critical problems a top priority.”

“Republican Primary conservative wins, overwhelming voter approval of the 13 GOP propositions, and the upcoming May 28 Runoff races all demonstrate Republican base voters want results—not political game-playing and more vulgar spending from the Austin elites,” she added.

While Oliverson is thus far the only candidate to announce his intention to run for speaker, regardless of whether Phelan survives his runoff election, others are expected to jump into the race in the coming weeks and months. 

Brandon Waltens

Brandon serves as the Senior Editor for Texas Scorecard. After managing successful campaigns for top conservative legislators and serving as a Chief of Staff in the Texas Capitol, Brandon moved outside the dome in order to shine a spotlight on conservative victories and establishment corruption in Austin. @bwaltens