In an escalation of his war with conservative lawmakers, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan announced Thursday that Republican State Rep. Tony Tinderholt has been banned from making parliamentary inquiries without prior approval.
A parliamentary inquiry is a question asked by a House member to the speaker to clarify rules or procedures.
“There is no Texas House precedent for the gag order Dade Phelan issued against Rep. Tinderholt today,” central Texas Attorney Tony McDonald, who is experienced in parliamentary procedure, told Texas Scorecard. “It was clear that Phelan was scared of the mounting pressure on him and was reading from a pre-planned script to shut Tinderholt down from asking him tough questions.”
McDonald noted that Phelan’s decision appears to deprive the whole House of its authority to punish members.
“While there are procedures for a speaker to rule that a member is being dilatory, and to instruct them to take their seat, Phelan’s resort to a personality-based rule that unilaterally strips Tinderholt of his right to engage in any future parliamentary inquiry is a punishment that he is not authorized to dole out,” added McDonald. “Phelan’s unilateral action deprives the whole House and their constituents of the right to determine if and when a member of the House should be punished.”
Notably, Democrats in the Texas House routinely engage in dilatory actions designed to stall House proceedings and kill Republican bills—particularly when deadlines for legislation are imminent.
Phelan has never imposed against the Democrats a rule similar to the one he imposed on Tinderholt today.
He cited a U.S. congressional precedent of “jurisprudential principles” that a parliamentary inquiry should relate in some “practical sense to the pending proceedings.”
“It should not seek an advisory opinion, the chair declines to respond to hypothetical questions, to questions not yet presented, and to requests to place pending proceedings in historical context,” stated Phelan.
This precedent was last used by Nancy Pelosi in 2010 to silence Republicans.
Tinderholt responded on X, calling Phelan “more tyrannical than Joe Straus ever was.”
Today, @DadePhelan was more tyrannical than Joe Straus ever was.
— Rep. Tony Tinderholt (@reptinderholt) October 12, 2023
“The Speaker’s actions today were the most tyrannical I have ever seen taken in the Texas House. Several Representatives who have been here many years longer than I have also echoed that sentiment,” Tinderholt told Texas Scorecard. “What voters should recognize is that forcing me to ask my questions at the dais isn’t designed to keep me from getting answers. It’s designed to keep voters from hearing. The Austin Establishment is terrified of what will happen to them when the People of Texas see what their “Republican” legislators are actually doing to our State.”
Attorney General Ken Paxton, meanwhile, compared the House to “a totalitarian government where the leadership controls and bans free-speech.”
Phelan’s decision follows Tinderholt’s call on Monday for the House to formally apologize to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for “political weaponization of the impeachment process.”