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After a secret meeting of a faction of Republican legislators, State Rep. Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont) has formally announced his candidacy for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

The announcement comes as the speaker race continues to heat up ahead of the 2021 legislative session. One faction of Republican lawmakers—dubbed “Team Bonnen” after disgraced outgoing Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen—held a closed-door meeting in Austin over the weekend to unify around an anti-reform candidate.

On Friday, ahead of the meeting, Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allen West warned Republican legislators against engaging in such backroom dealings, saying, “Any candidate who emerges from a guarded, smoke-filled room will end in embarrassment.”

But despite the party leader’s admonition, the meeting was still held. 

Phelan’s candidacy has been met with serious opposition amongst conservatives over his record during his time in the legislature.

In 2019, Phelan received a 49 on the Fiscal Responsibility Index. As chair of the House State Affairs Committee, Phelan gutted legislation that would have protected small businesses from onerous local mandates. He was one of only three Texas House Republicans to receive a positive grade from Equality Texas, a pro-LGBT advocacy organization. 

JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America – We the People, says the conservative organization does not support Phelan.

“Anyone who supports Phelan for House Speaker signals to the conservative grassroots that they agree with backroom deals and have become willing accomplices in the long-range plan to hand Texas over to Democrats. Phelan support is a declaration of war on the Republican Party of Texas and its conservative grassroots army,” said Fleming in a Texas Scorecard commentary.

While the official vote for speaker will not take place until January 12, 2021, when the next legislative session begins, the race has already begun and much of the work is taking place behind the scenes.

Republican State Reps. Chris Paddie of Marshall, Trent Ashby of Lufkin, and Geanie Morrison of Victoria have also officially filed for the position. State Rep. John Cyrier (R–Lockhart) also announced his candidacy, but he dropped out less than 24 hours later and endorsed Morrison.

Democrat State Reps. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio, and Oscar Longoria of Mission have also filed, hoping Democrats will be able to gain a majority in the Texas House after Tuesday’s election.