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A Conversation with Speaker Phelan

Phelan Discusses Building the GOP, Conservative Victories, His Leadership Style, And Priorities for the Session

In his first interview since his re-election as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Dade Phelan visited with The Texas Voice for a wide ranging conversation.

The conversation began with a discussion of Speaker Phelan’s work to grow the Republican Party during the 2022 election, which saw the number of Republican State Representatives increase from 83 to 86.

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Speaker Phelan estimated that he spent approximately $6 million between spending in the 2022 primary and general election, in addition to flying about 30,000 miles across Texas. Phelan also emphasized the importance of candidate recruitment, noting “candidates do matter” and “we have to make certain we have Republicans who represent their districts and are willing to come up here and fight for Republican conservative values, but also have a connection to their districts.”

In discussing candidate recruitment, Phelan specifically referenced races in HD 70 in Collin County and HD 118 in Bexar County. In HD 70, Phelan described Republican nominee Jamee Jolly as a “phenomenal candidate” who “represented her district well” and observed that Republicans “wouldn’t have had a fighting chance” had Jolly not been the Republican nominee. Jolly, who did not receive any financial support from the Republican Party of Texas during her campaign, was narrowly defeated by Democrat Mihaela Plesa by 859 votes.

In discussing his support for State Representative John Lujan’s successful campaign for HD 118, Phelan spoke about how Lujan was initially reluctant to run, but convinced him to enter the race. “I called him I said, No, you’re the right person for this job. You’ve lived in this district your entire life. You’re a retired firefighter. You’re involved in local youth sports. He’s adopted at risk children, he and his wife are fought for the custody of at-risk youth in the foster care system, just a phenomenal story. And now he’s a successful small business owner. And so I told him if you get in the race, I will 100% back you. And that was a seat that Democrats could not afford to lose.”

Lujan was the top vote-getter in a special election held on September 28, 2021 to fill a vacancy created after the resignation of Democrat State Representative Leo Pacheco, but was forced into a runoff. Lujan won the runoff in a district that Joe Biden carried by 10 points, and was re-elected this past November, with Phelan remarking that Democrats “came back hard to try to take it back from us, and we still won again.”

Phelan also pointed to the work of other organizations such as Associated Republicans of Texas, Texans For Lawsuit Reform, and Texans for Responsible Government for their role in a “group effort” that “not only kept the majority, but grew it in a very challenging election cycle.”

Phelan expressed pride in helping the re-election efforts of his colleagues, and ensuring they had the resources needed to communicate their conservative accomplishments to voters in their districts.

“I defended every one of my Republican colleagues who asked for my support, and every single one of them won. Of the four who were in runoffs, typically a runoff candidate in the Texas House going back 20 years, loses 89% of the time. And all four of these runoff Republicans who I supported all won, which is pretty much unheard of. And many of these were in a runoff because the opposition recruited sometimes two or three opponents just to get them in a runoff, and it still was not sustained. The importance of my operation is to raise the resources and deploy the resources so those members can tell their side of the story, so it’s just not a one-sided conversation.”

Phelan attributed the success of his Republican colleagues to their ability to deliver on key conservative values where Texas now leads the national discussion.

“When voters understand the promises that we delivered, I mean decades long promises the Republican Party has been asking for, and now quite frankly, now we lead. We lead the nation when it comes to discussions on pro-life issues and Second Amendment issues. We passed a social media bill that we’re going to build upon. Election integrity. Budgets that were below population growth and inflation four sessions in a row. Border security, we’re providing security for the entire country by defending our 1,200 mile border. We’re leading the national discussion on these issues. Model legislation. Discussing the most core conservative values.”

Phlean added, “When members are able to take the successes and explain how integral they were and how they were part of that, then they win. That’s what we found out. But give them the voice, and then they can beat these their challengers who in the past have had a bigger megaphone. But they’re not going to have a bigger megaphone anymore.”

In addition to his work defending and growing the Republican majority in the Texas House, Phelan was also involved in other efforts to grow the Republican Party as a whole. Phelan was a key supporter of and donor to #ProjectRedTX, which provided financial and other support for Republicans in down-ballot races in South Texas.

When asked about his support for #ProjectRedTX, Phelan discussed his own experience growing up in Southeast Texas, an area that was once heavily Democratic but is now solidly Republican.

“If you go back a decade plus, in East Texas, Southeast Texas, where I’m from, that area started the trend from blue to red. And it started happening quicker than many realize. We need to build a bench in areas that are certain to trend Republican, to make certain that we have candidates who have ties to the community, who are who are able to fundraise, ready to work and have a message that they can deliver to voters that resonates.

And we saw struggles in East Texas where, all of a sudden, voters were backing the Republican Party, but we didn’t have the candidates who were ready, willing and able to run. So my thought is in South Texas, if these counties are trending Republican, then we need to start at the at the county and city level, school boards, and start getting individuals who represent Republican values represent conservative values, get them on the ballot, support them, be there for them.”

Phelan added that it was important that prospective Republican candidates in these races know that there is a structure in place to help their campaigns be successful. He also complimented the work of Wayne Hamilton and Cat Parks, who he credited with “doing the lion’s share of the labor and hard work” in signing up over 135 candidates across 24 counties, winning over a third of those races in areas of Texas that have never elected a Republican.

“Now we have county commissioners and county judges, and we have clerks and treasurers. And we’re building that bench. The future of the Republican Party going forward is reaching out to Hispanics and growing it in South Texas, and it starts at the local level. They’re the next state rep, then the next state senator, then the next Congressperson. They could be the next Governor. But we have to start building that bench. And that’s what #ProjectRedTX did. I was proud to support them, and the return on the investment was exceptional”, said Phelan.

Upon his re-election as Speaker, Phelan highlighted several conservative priorities including tax relief, border security, and protecting Texas children.

When discussing what he described as a “one in a generation budget surplus”, Phelan sounded optimistic about delivering significant tax relief. He noted that there were discussions involving a “minimum $3 billion in property tax relief” and “that number had probably grown because of the budget surplus.” But Phlean also said that “I just want to be mindful as a political conservative, that we do have budget caps, and that requires significant votes to bust those caps” and that there was not necessarily agreement about various officials at the Capitol about voting to exceed budget caps to deliver additional property tax relief.

Phlean observed that it was important to be mindful of future budgets, stating “We don’t want to write checks that we cannot cash in 2025” and “Let’s be mindful of the investments we make whether it’s in property tax relief, or infrastructure, broadband, health care, or border security.” Phelan also urged caution, recognizing that the size of the surplus was due to increased sales tax revenue generated by inflation.

On the issue of border security, Phlean struck a confident tone, stating “We’re obviously going to secure our border. We have 1,200 miles, and the federal government is completely failing us. We have trafficking and opioids pouring over our border. We’re going to continue to invest in border security.”

Phelan discussed meetings he had with members of the Texas Congressional delegation and both United States Senators on the issue of border security, describing them as “very productive”, and stated that he believes that the federal government owes Texas between $7 billion and $11 billion in reimbursements for border security expenditures.

In discussing the importance of protecting Texas children, Phelan, a father of four, pointed to his work creating the House Select Committee on Youth Health and Safety. He was also highly critical of big tech, and indicated his support for legislation to rein in their abuses.

“Social media, for instance, big tech, I think in Texas, we need to rein them in. They have far too much control over our children’s data and our data, where we’re going and what we’re buying. And the algorithms, algorithms they use to exploit our children, need to be looked at and possibly banned or sanctioned,” said Phelan.

In describing his leadership style and approach in serving as presiding officer of the Texas House, Phelan emphasized the importance of fairness.

“I see myself as “What kind of speaker would I want if I were not speaker?”, and that would be someone who calls balls and strikes. And lets me go out there and represent my district and move my legislation if I’ve got the votes. And that’s how I approach my role in leadership.

If someone goes out there and works the floor and works the floor, and they come back with an obvious majority to move that bill, then that’s the process. Of course, not all of this this comes down to Republican versus Democrat, per se. But the minority could be anything on any given day. But then the minority shall be heard but the majority shall prevail. So I just try to approach my role as how would I want a speaker to treat me as a member of the Texas House, and my legislation and what’s important to my district. And so that’s how I view my role.”

On the matter of committee chairmanships, Phlean explained the history of some committee chairmanships being given to members of the minority party. Phelan described it as a “longstanding tradition” that “became exceptionally robust in the early 1970s, before I was even born.” Phelan also pointed to news reports after Fort Worth Democrat Gib Lewis was elected Speaker in 1983 that recognized that Republicans were one of the biggest winners during that session because Republicans comprised one third of the House membership and also held one third of the committee chairmanships.

Phelan contrasted to the prosperity of Texas with the rampant dysfunction of Washington in supporting the practice.

“It’s been a long standing tradition, and it has served Texas well. We are the beacon of economic opportunity. A thousand people vote with their feet every day by moving here, most of them are conservatives. And that’s why we’re able to maintain and grow our majority both in the House and Senate and US Congress.

So I don’t understand why we would revert to DC style politics. They can’t even pass a budget. Last session, we passed the budget 149 to 0. It’s because we had robust debate, everyone had an opportunity to have their voice heard, and they felt comfortable voting for a budget. Now, just remind me the last time DC passed a budget?”

The Republican Party of Texas recently passed a “legislative priority” calling for abolishing Democratic committee chairs. Concerning those efforts, Phelan remarked “I think folks who are really behind this effort are very, very few. They have a loud voice. And they don’t appreciate the process, because they’ve never they’ve never been successful in the process.”

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