(TEXAS TRIBUNE)- This week, the Texas Republican Party launched an attack on one of its members, Speaker of the State House of Representatives Dade Phelan, prompting backlash from some Republicans in the House.
The State Party began airing a radio ad accusing Phelan of allowing Democrats to continue chairing House committees, a long tradition that a small faction of Republicans in the House of Representatives sought to end last week when the House drafted its package of rules. But Phelan and his allies outmaneuvered them by preventing the issue — the state’s GOP priority — from even reaching a general vote.
In a one-minute ad, the narrator says the speaker is “teaming with Democrats to kill our Republican priorities.” According to a tweet by Texas Republican Party chairman Matt Rinaldi, the ad went live on Wednesday in Phelan County in southeast Texas.
“Call Dade Phelan today,” the announcement said to Phelan voters. “Tell him to be a Republican. Tell him to stop empowering Democrats. Tell him to listen to the 85% of voters who support a ban on the Democratic presidency.”
State party spokesman James Wesolek said the party initially spent $15,000 to air the video for two weeks.
Phelan’s office declined to comment on the announcement. But by Friday, at least two of his allies in the House of Representatives had responded to him on Twitter.
Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, tweeted a screenshot of a recent fundraising email from the Texas GOP and wrote, “Wow! [Texas GOP]hypocrisy knows no bounds! They are raising funds by passing the Heartbeat and Trigger Bills – to fund their attacks on the speaker who helped pass their bill!”
Burroughs was referring to bills passed by the Phelan-led House during the 2021 session that allowed Texas to effectively outlaw abortion after Roe v. Wade was struck down last year.
“Rinaldi spent more on attacking a conservative Republican speaker than on helping to elect Republicans,” Rep. Charlie Guerin of Fort Worth tweeted. Rinaldi counters that the state party has done little to help the Republicans in the midterms.
The ad represents an escalation in efforts to eliminate Democratic committee chairs that have been building up over the past two years. Phelan defended this practice as a worthwhile tradition that distinguishes the Legislative Assembly from Congress and its regular dysfunction. While he has yet to release committee appointments for the current session, he said he expects to appoint broadly the same proportion of Democrats to lead committees as last time.
Supporters of an end to Democratic committee chairs have always had great difficulty finding enough support in the House of Representatives to change the rules, but they hoped to show that their ranks had grown when the rules package was put to a vote last week. Instead, Phelan and his allies used a point of order or procedural calls to successfully prevent consideration of two amendments limiting the number of Democratic committee chairs.
Banning Democratic committee chairs is one of the Texas Republican Party’s eight legislative priorities, and Rinaldi has been one of its most vocal proponents.
Rule discussion is over, but Rinaldi said in an interview that the state party “wanted to take advantage of the extra month we had” before Phelan announced his committee chairs “and encourage him to make the right decisions.”
Rinaldi responded to Guérin’s criticism on Twitter by saying that the money spent by the state party on advertising “pale compared to the millions we’ve spent supporting the Republicans this election cycle.” The party said it spent more than $6 million in the November election, though critics say much of that amount was money funneled through the state party by national GOP groups and earmarked for specific efforts. Rinaldi said some of the money was indeed so-called “transit” money, but that the party made a “very, very active” effort on its own, spending almost $1 million on a November “victory” program to get Republicans into parliament. the general election and more than $1 million for the Electoral Integrity Initiative.
“Guérin doesn’t understand what he’s talking about and it’s a total rejection,” Rinaldi said.
Phelan represents an all-Republican district, District 21, along the Louisiana border. He withstood high-profile partisan attacks in the last election, including from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and former President Donald Trump, and won his primary unopposed.
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