Opposed by top Texas Republicans and Trump, state House speaker survives GOP primary runoff challenge

The Associated Press projects that Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan will survive a Republican primary runoff election challenge by David Covey.

Phelan’s victory in a state House district east of Houston is seen as a political setback for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and former President Donald Trump, as well as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Phelan oversaw the effort last year to impeach Paxton over corruption charges. Paxton was acquitted by the state Senate after the House overwhelmingly impeached the controversial attorney general. 


In response, Paxton targeted over 30 GOP incumbent state representatives, with Phelan at the top of the list. Paxton’s most powerful ally, Trump, endorsed Covey.

Meanwhile, Abbott was looking for payback over the downing in the state House last year of his education plan that would have opened the spigot for taxpayer funding of private schools. The school voucher measure, which was Abbott’s top legislative item last year, passed the state Senate, but its downing in the state House was a rare political setback for the three-term governor.


Nine GOP state House lawmakers went down to defeat in the state’s March primary, with eight more forced into runoffs. All were targeted by either Abbott or Paxton, or by both the governor and the attorney general.

“It’s a power play and definitely a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party of Texas and Gov. Abbott wants to get legislators in there who will support his agenda,” veteran Texas-based Republican strategist Brendan Steinhauser told Fox News last week.

“For Ken Paxton and [Lt. Gov.] Dan Patrick and Donald Trump by proxy, for them, it is definitely trying to take out the person who led the impeachment against Ken Paxton and who stood in the way of Dan Patrick’s agenda in the Senate. All those factors together make a really powerful force for the Speaker to overcome,” he emphasized.

The race was also seen as a proxy battle for the future of the GOP in Texas.

Phelan was backed by old guard Republicans – including former Gov. Rick Perry – and conservative-leaning business leaders who helped bring the GOP to power in Texas in the 1980s and 1990s. Covey enjoyed the support of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Paxton and Trump, but also far-right activists who place more of an emphasis on social and cultural issues.

If Phelan had lost, he would have become the first Texas House speaker to be ousted in a primary in over a half century.

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