The 88th meeting of the Texas Legislature began Tuesday afternoon, with members of the House and Senate sworn in and House Speakers elected.
In the House of Representatives, Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, was re-elected Speaker by 143 votes to 3.
In his speech, Phelan called on lawmakers to work together to pass meaningful legislation for Texans.
“We will have divisions. Every session does. But this division should not define us,” Phelan told lawmakers after being sworn in as speaker. “We do our jobs here, together, and when we do, we just might be surprised to find out how much we have in common.”
Phelan also pledged to keep Texas politics from looking like a permanent stalemate in Congress.
Addressing the freshmen, Phelan asked them “not to confuse this body with the body in Washington, D.C.”
“After Congress tried to get the job done last week, I can’t understand why some people want Texas to be like DC,” he said, referring to the marathon election for the speaker of the US House of Representatives.
In his speech, Phelan pledged to lead the House of Representatives in passing laws that provide tax breaks for Texas homeowners. He also promised to “restrain” district attorneys who “do not follow the law.”
But Phelan’s election gave a glimpse of divisions within the Texas Republican Party.
Phelan was criticized by some GOP representatives and voters for continuing the practice of appointing Democrats to chair certain House committees.
Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, unsuccessfully challenged Phelan. He said that change was needed and that “doing it right pales in comparison to the cost of having this House repeat missed opportunities.”
Jessie Carlson, a Republican who traveled from Corpus Christi to Austin to attend the opening, said Phelan’s practice hurts the Republican agenda.
Carlson was part of a group of people who wore red shirts that read “Ban the Democratic Chairs!”
“We have complete and total control in the House of Representatives and the Senate here in Texas as far as the Republican Party is concerned,” Carlson said. “But a lot of the bills, a lot of the things that we want to do … don’t go through because those bills will never get off committee because Phelan keeps appointing Democrats to chair these committees.”
But Rep. Toni Rose of Dallas said she voted for Phelan because he really wants to work with those who disagree with him.
“Regardless of who you are, where you come from, or why you are here, Dade Phelan believes that the members of this House deserve a fair chance to succeed,” Rose said.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Senator Kelly Hancock, of North Richland Hills, was provisionally elected Speaker. As lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick is the leader of the House.
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