Most Texas primary election races concluded in March, but marking the end of a bitter primary season was the race for House District 21, where Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan prevailed in a fight for his political life, beating activist David Covey in a runoff by fewer than 400 votes.

In the March primary, Covey took 46 percent of the vote to Phelan’s 43 percent. A third candidate in the race, Alicia Davis, received 10 percent in the previous round and endorsed Covey heading into the runoff. The race was the most-watched primary fight between the establishment wing of the Texas Republican Party and the conservative grassroots. In his challenge, Covey lined up endorsements from several statewide elected officials, including Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, and even Donald Trump. Phelan was backed by former Energy secretary and governor Rick Perry, local elected officials in his House district, and much of the Texas Republican business establishment, which some branded the “old guard.” 

The core issue in the campaign was last year’s failed impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, led by Phelan and his leadership team. But the conservative wing of the Texas GOP has also criticized him for failing to deliver on school choice, letting Democratic members of the legislature break quorum to protest election-integrity legislation, and giving Democratic House members committee chairmanships. Last summer, as Governor Greg Abbott repeatedly called the legislature back into special session to address property taxes, Phelan and Patrick sparred at the state capitol and on social media over the best way to pursue property-tax cuts. The fight then expanded to their respective handling of the impeachment proceedings against Attorney General Paxton. Patrick said that the Speaker’s team “rammed” through the impeachment, “paying no attention to precedent,” while Phelan accused Patrick of bias in his handling of the trial in the Texas Senate.

Phelan was elected to the House in 2014 and became Speaker of the 150-member body in 2021. Between the two candidates and outside groups, roughly $7 million was spent in the race. Given Phelan’s likely victory in the general election, the question now is whether he will retain his speakership.

In March, Houston-area state representative Tom Oliverson kicked off the Speaker’s race by launching his own campaign. At his announcement, he criticized Phelan’s handling of the impeachment and the overall condition of the Texas House of Representatives under his leadership. Time will tell if other members agree.

The Texas primary season is over, but the fracture in the state’s Republican Party could continue to widen as November’s general elections approach.

Photo: BrandonSeidel / iStock / Getty Images Plus


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