Mark Davis: Texas House GOP battles will pause. But here’s why they’re not over | Opinion

The end of primary season usually means individual battles within a party are over and all focus shifts to beating the other guys in November. On the Republican side, that’s the spirit state Rep. Jeff Leach of Collin County sought when we spoke the morning after the runoffs.

“I am laser-focused on moving forward together,” he told me from Beaumont, where he joined Republican colleagues in support of House Speaker Dade Phelan, who narrowly survived a challenge from David Covey. “It’s time to come together and unite.”

That unity may play out in the fall campaigns against Democrats. But as the next legislative session looms in the new year, many of the fractious themes of the last year will resurface as Phelan seeks to retain his speakership against a tide of newcomers who oppose him.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, five Phelan-allied incumbents were forced into runoffs under the weight of voter discontent with the speaker, most notably his ill-fated impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton. All five lost, and not one race was close.

I shared with Leach a list of agenda items that some conservatives had blamed Phelan for obstructing or slow-walking. From school choice to border protections to banning Chinese land ownership in Texas, Leach suggested likely progress in a 2025 session with Phelan as speaker.

There are skeptics. From Paxton to several freshly elected legislators to new Texas Republican Party chairman Abraham George to Lt. Gov. Governor Dan Patrick, a growing Republican chorus will push loudly for a new speaker.

Leach chairs the House Judiciary Committee, an environment where shared bad blood with the attorney general might prove tricky. I asked if he stands by his characterization of Paxton as a “sophisticated criminal.” He stood by that term and every element of his quest at Phelan’s side to take Paxton down.

For his part, Paxton is not exactly burying the hatchet, either. In a statement aimed at Phelan’s base of supporters in the House, he suggested: “Ask your 15 colleagues who lost reelection how they feel about their decision now. You will not return if you vote for Dade Phelan again.”

Patrick offered another warning — to Phelan himself. “We will be on his butt,” the lieutenant governor told me Wednesday morning. “Everybody’s going to be watching him like a hawk.” That vigilance is born of observations that Phelan intentionally sabotaged Republican measures he did not favor. “Almost everything he took credit for the house, conservative bills we passed in the Senate — he dragged his feet to get there,” Patrick said. “Sometimes, it took him two sessions to get there. And he killed a lot of conservative bills.”

Patrick and the new class of GOP House arrivals will seek a speaker capable of reaching the majority of 76 votes with Republicans alone, rather than relying on Democratic House members, whom, Phelan critics say, he repays with committee chairmanships and strategic surrenders.

Whatever favors Phelan may or may not extend to Democrats in Austin, it appears he owes them a debt of gratitude in his home district. The Covey campaign found 1,442 votes cast in Jefferson County by people with a history of voting only in Democratic primaries. Phelan won by 366. This is why Phelan is not the only target of the new breed of bolder Republicans; so is the open primary system that makes such crossovers possible.

As for the speaker battle that Phelan’s victory now guarantees, some staunch critics admit to an uphill battle: “It’s going to be hard to stop him,” Midlothian state Rep. Brian Harrison acknowledged to me Wednesday. “He starts out with a bloc of the Democrat caucus votes, that’s about 66 to start with, and you only need about 10 more to lock up the majority.”

Yet from the new party chair to many of the incoming freshmen, there remain rays of hope for a different speaker, perhaps Dr. Tom Oliverson of Cypress, who announced his bid in March, or other candidates who may follow.

The runoffs finally answered a variety of specific questions over Republican winners and losers in certain House races. But as the winners turn their attention toward Democratic opponents every day until Election Day, Nov. 5, another answer seems clear: Those who prevail will soon thereafter busy themselves with intra-party conflicts that will extend to the 89th Legislature in January.

Mark Davis hosts a morning radio show in Dallas-Fort Worth on 660-AM and at Follow him on X: @markdavis .

Mark Davis
Mark Davis

Do you have an opinion on this topic? Tell us!

We love to hear from Texans with opinions on the news — and to publish those views in the Opinion section.

• Letters should be no more than 150 words.

• Writers should submit letters only once every 30 days.

• Include your name, address (including city of residence), phone number and email address, so we can contact you if we have questions.

You can submit a letter to the editor two ways:

• Email (preferred).

• Fill out this online form.

Please note: Letters will be edited for style and clarity. Publication is not guaranteed. The best letters are focused on one topic.