What is the most powerful position in Texas not directly elected by the citizens of our state? Well, the answer, of course, is the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. The Speaker is elected by the 150 members of the House in a process more akin to selecting a Pope than a political leader. Specifically, members pledge to the candidate seeking a majority by reaching at least 76 pledges. As this is not official, nor done in public, no member is technically bound to their pledges beyond their word, which can make for a fluid situation.
Before this year’s general election, we had heard from members of both parties that despite whichever party took control of the House, everyone wanted to settle the issue of selecting a new Speaker as quickly as possible. Considering the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the upcoming session, they felt it was critical that the issue of a new Speaker be settled as soon as possible. After the election, with Republicans maintaining their 83-67 margin in the lower chamber, there was no doubt that the next Speaker would be from the GOP.
Sure enough, the day after the election, Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) held a press conference releasing a list of 83 pledges in a bipartisan coalition for his candidacy as Speaker. Since that time, the list has continued to grow, and it is almost a certainty that Rep. Phelan will be the next Speaker. He has broad support from members of both parties. While a very strong member and definitely in the mix for Speaker, Rep. Phelan’s quick rise took some capitol watchers by surprise. After sealing the needed pledges, there was some talk of a minor insurrection for another candidate, but it never gained any steam.
Rep. Phelan is a real estate developer and was first elected to the House in 2015. Under current one-term Speaker Bonnen, Rep. Phelan was named Chairman of the State Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over telecommunication, utility, and other major issues. He is experienced in the issues facing our industry and will be very familiar with our concerns. Last session, Rep. Phelan also served on a number of important and powerful committees, including Vice-Chair of Natural Resources, Calendars, Appropriations, and Elections Committees. He is a known figure around the capitol having worked as staff for Rep. Mark Stiles and Senator Tommy Williams. It would be fair to say, that when the new Speaker is selected on January 12, 2021, the first day of the 87th Legislature, expectations will be high for the new Speaker. Rep. Phelan’s experience at the capitol, his effectiveness as a legislator, and his love and respect for the legislative process, will no doubt have him well prepared for the difficult session ahead. The House has made an excellent choice for its presumptive Speaker, which bodes well for the future. Welcome, Speaker Phelan!