When reading stories about the Texas Legislature, one position is repeatedly mentioned: the speaker of the House.
Indeed, the speaker of the House wields a great amount of power and influence over which legislation gets enacted and which is thrown to the wayside.
But what exactly is the speaker of the House? And how are they chosen?
On paper, the speaker of the House is just an administrator tasked with keeping order in the lower chamber of the Texas Legislature. In reality, the speaker has an incredibly powerful position and sets the agenda for the state House.
Perhaps the greatest example of the speaker’s power is that they name committees and appoint committee chairs. They can also apply pressure by forcing votes in certain directions.
Similarly, a Republican speaker who doesn’t want a piece of conservative legislation to pass could refer a bill to a committee led by a Democrat, which would nearly guarantee its demise. (Remember: the speaker appoints the committee chairs.)
When voters go to the polls, they have the opportunity to elect the lieutenant governor, who serves as the president of the Texas Senate. In the Texas House, however, leadership is chosen by the members themselves—not directly by the voters. Additionally, unlike Washington D.C., the speaker of the House must be a sitting member of the Texas House.
Choosing the speaker of the House is one of the first orders of business when a new Legislature is sworn in, though campaigns for the position begin long before then. Despite Republicans holding a majority in the chamber, all recent speakers have used Democrat support to secure the position.
A speaker hopeful may ask members to “pledge” their support for their campaigns. Once a candidate has a majority of pledged support (76 of the chamber’s 150 members), the race is generally considered over and nearly all of the holdout members rally around them.
When current Speaker Dade Phelan was elected in 2021, for example, only two members voted against him (State Reps. Jeff Cason and Bryan Slaton). When Dennis Bonnen was elected to the position in 2019, the vote was unanimous.
Phelan has indicated he will run for the position again in 2023; no member has indicated they will challenge him for the position.
The next vote for speaker of the House will take place when the Legislature convenes on January 10, 2023.
This originally appeared in the Texas Minute for Monday, April 4, 2022.