Top GOP lawmakers back Rep. Phelan as House speaker despite party chair’s criticism
Texas Rep. Dade Phelan speaks at a signing ceremony and public announcement of an intergovernmental partnership to build a levee system for future storm protection in Orange County. Photo taken Monday, September 28, 2020 Kim Brent/The Enterprise Photo: Kim Brent / The Enterprise

Top GOP lawmakers back Rep. Phelan as House speaker despite party chair’s criticism

Outgoing Speaker Dennis Bonnen during radio interviews Tuesday did not mince words over how he felt about West attacking Phelan.

Top Texas Republicans are pushing back on Texas GOP chair Allen West’s attempts to undermine Rep. Dade Phelan, who has the majority support he needs to be elected House Speaker in January.

West on Monday said the party would not accept a leader who would court votes from Democrats — Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, has said he has the support of 57 Republicans and 49 Democrats — to earn the job, despite that being a common practice among aspiring speaker candidates in the past.

“Texas does not need a Republican political traitor, not at a time when the two diverging philosophies of governance are this lucid,” West said in a statement.

A day later, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott voiced unwavering support for Phelan, and outgoing Speaker Dennis Bonnen during radio interviews did not mince words over how he felt about West attacking Phelan.

“We need to have a fund for Allen West to be bought a one-way bus back to Florida. The problem is, I don’t think Florida would take him,” Bonnen said on the Chad Hasty on KFYO News Talk Radio. “Allen West is so off-base and so out-of-line and so irresponsible, it is infuriating.”

West, a former Florida congressman, was elected by the party in July, unseating James Dickey who had taken heat for technical difficulties that plagued the virtual 2020 GOP state convention after Houston officials blocked it from being held downtown because of the pandemic. The hardline conservative has repeatedly clashed with Republican leadership in state government ever since his election.

Bonnen’s comments Tuesday came after a slew of House Republicans, including state Reps. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, and Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, had denounced West’s criticism and stood behind Phelan.

In a statement, Abbott congratulated Phelan in a statement, making clear that he views Phelan as the presumptive speaker.

While West called Phelan a “political traitor” for working with Democrats during the prior legislative session and using their support to earn votes for the speakership, Abbott referred to Phelan as a “strong conservative.”

“I look forward to working with him and all members of the House on commonsense, conservative legislation to create an even brighter future for the people of Texas,” Abbott said.

Phelan, a real estate developer, has served in the House since 2015 and is a close ally of Bonnen, who appointed him to chair the powerful State Affairs Committee last session. Along with Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, Phelan in 2019 helped pass $1.6 billion legislation that helped fund Hurricane Harvey aid and preparation for future disasters.

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