Texas House Republicans suffer unprecedented losses amid intraparty war

Speaker Dade Phelan narrowly escaped defeat.
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R), during session at the state capitol in Austin on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Six Texas House Republicans lost bids for new terms to conservative challengers in runoff elections Tuesday, while House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) narrowly escaped his own ouster in an election contest that set factions of Republicans against each other.

The results on Tuesday add to the nine Republican incumbents who lost bids for new terms in Texas’s March primary. The unprecedented number of incumbents who went down to defeat had all run afoul of either Gov. Greg Abbott, who has pushed for school voucher programs, or Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), two arch-conservatives seeking vengeance against fellow Republicans.

Abbott, who has made voucher legislation a priority for years, took the unusual step of supporting challengers to members of his own party after a coalition of urban Democrats and rural Republicans blocked the bill once again in 2023.

In a statement as the results came in, Abbott claimed the House now has enough voucher supporters to approve the bill.

“The Texas legislature now has enough votes to pass school choice. This is a victory for every Texas family across our great state,” Abbott said in a statement. “While we did not win every race we fought in, the overall message from this year’s primaries is clear: Texans want school choice. Opponents of school choice can no longer ignore the will of the people.”

Abbott’s political committee spent just under $12 million on his effort to reshape the voucher debate, a senior strategist told Pluribus News.

Patrick and Paxton played active roles in bids to reshape the state House, which has in recent years represented a more traditional form of conservatism as the state Senate veers right.

Patrick, an arch conservative who controls the Senate, has long feuded with House leaders. Paxton, who was impeached over whistleblower claims last year before surviving a trial in the Senate, spent heavily to try to oust those who voted for his impeachment.

The casualties Tuesday included Reps. Frederick Frazier (R), Lynn Stucky (R) and Stephanie Klick (R), three school voucher supporters who were backed by Abbott — but who voted to impeach Paxton, drawing his ire.

But Phelan, a top target of both Patrick and Paxton, narrowly survived in a district in the Houston exurbs that stretches from the Gulf Coast north through Beaumont. With all precincts reporting, Phelan beat conservative challenger David Covey (R) by a margin of just 366 votes, or about 1.4 percentage points.

Covey, who had won more votes than Phelan in the March primary, conceded defeat a few hours after the polls closed. The two candidates combined to spend more than $5 million on the runoff campaign, a shocking amount for a seat in the state House.

In an address to supporters after the polls closed, Phelan claimed a mandate.

“I will be your state rep for HD 21 and I will be your speaker for the Texas House in 2025,” Phelan said, according to the Texas Tribune. “This was a true grassroots effort — not the fake grassroots.”

But Paxton, who campaigned for Covey late into Tuesday, signaled that Republicans still have internecine fights ahead: He promised to back challengers to Republicans who support Phelan for the speakership next year.

“To those considering supporting Dade Phelan as Speaker in 2025, ask your 15 colleagues who lost re-election how they feel about their decision now,” Paxton said, according to the Texas Tribune. “You will not return if you vote for Dade Phelan again.”