Over the past year, intraparty critics of the Republican leadership of the Texas House of Representatives have attempted to advance a narrative alleging that Republican voters are dissatisfied with the Texas House. This led to speculation among some that the Republican Party of Texas would widely invoke what is known as “Rule 44” to censure and penalize numerous members of the Texas House.
However, as the deadline for the Party to penalize lawmakers under Rule 44 has now passed, only one such resolution was passed against a sitting member of the Texas House- State Representative Andrew Murr, who is not seeking re-election.
Under Rule 44, the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) may impose penalties against a “Republican public officeholder” if it determines that the officeholder took “three (3) or more actions taken during the current biennium in opposition to the core principles of the Republican Party of Texas defined in the Preamble of the Party Platform as described in Rule No. 43A or to the Legislative Priorities adopted at the most recent State Convention as described in Rule 34(c).”
The penalties available under Rule 44 include declaring “that no Rule or Bylaw enacted by any division of the Party at any level that demands the Party be neutral in intraparty contests shall be observed with respect to the named officeholder, and no financial or other support shall be provided to their campaign by the Party except that which is required by law. If the officeholder files an application to run for any public office in the Republican Party primary following the censure resolution’s passage, the SREC shall be authorized to spend up to twelve percent (12%) of the Party’s general fund on voter education in the officeholder’s district, by republishing the original censure resolution verbatim, using a media format determined by the SREC” and declaring “declare that the named officeholder is discouraged from participating in the Republican Party Primary following the censure passage.”
Any resolution imposing penalties under Rule 44 must pass by a three-fifths vote of the SREC. In April, the SREC passed a resolution to censure and penalize Congressman Tony Gonzales under Rule 44.
The SREC is set to consider a proposed censure of Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan at a future meeting. However, at least one of Phelan’s critics on the SREC has argued that such a resolution would not meet the requirements of Rule 44.
At the SREC’s Resolutions Committee meeting last week, State Republican Rolando Garcia of Houston argued that a proposed censure of Phelan did not meet the requirement that the officeholder took at least three actions violating the Party’s “core principles” or “legislative priorities.”
“We need to have an airtight case. It needs to be open and shut,” said Garcia, who added he believed that the threshold was met concerning the censure resolutions passed against Gonzales and Murr. Garcia concluded his remarks by saying, “I don’t think that’s the case with Dade Phelan.”
After the Orange County Republican Party passed a resolution censuring Phelan in July, Garcia tweeted, “My initial take: appointing Dem chairs is the only slam-dunk Rule 44 violation. Killing border bill is borderline. Case for the other supposed violations pretty weak.” Garcia’s tweet also noted, “THREE separate violations of @TexasGOP Principles & Lege Priorities required to trigger Rule 44 censure.”
Since Garcia’s tweet in July, the Texas legislature passed a sweeping border security bill, Senate Bill 4, that would make illegal entry a crime under state law. The bill also requires a judge to order an individual convicted on charges of illegal entry “to return to the foreign nation from which the person entered.”
Despite his concerns about the proposed censure of Phelan, Garcia has been publicly critical of Phelan and other Republican members of the Texas House.
As previously reported by The Texas Voice, Orange County Republican County Chairman Leo LaBauve touted Phelan’s conservative accomplishments in a social media post responding to the censure resolution passed by the Orange County Republican Party Executive Committee. LaBauve also questioned the motivations behind the resolution, stating that such a resolution “should not be used to launch an opponent’s political campaign.” David Covey, LaBauve’s predecessor as Chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, is currently challenging Phelan in the Republican primary.
In addition to the procedural concerns raised by Garcia, the deadline for the SREC to pass a censure resolution penalizing any current officeholder has now passed.
Under Rule 44, a resolution penalizing an officeholder may only be considered by “the SREC or any State Convention held prior to start of the filing period of a Republican Primary Election.” The filing period for the 2024 Republican Primary began on November 11. Additionally, Rule 44 only authorizes the SREC to spend funds to publish a censure resolution in an officeholder’s district if “the officeholder files an application to run for any public office in the Republican Party primary following the censure resolution’s passage.”
The deadline to file for a place on the ballot in the 2024 Republican Primary is December 11. Due to notice requirements that must be provided to officeholders subject to a proposed censure under Rule 44, the SREC will not be able to consider any further censures imposing penalties under that rule for the 2024 primary election cycle.
Although the proposed Rule 44 censure of Phelan would violate the rules of the Republican Party of Texas, the cash-strapped Party is using the prospect of censuring Phelan in fundraising e-mails. “Take the Poll: Should We Censure Speaker Phelan?” read the subject line of an e-mail sent by the Republican Party of Texas yesterday.
A fundraising letter sent by the Republican Party of Texas in August that bore the signature of State Chairman Matt Rinaldi credited the Republican-led Texas legislature with passing numerous conservative bills. Rinaldi wrote that the bills passed by Republican lawmakers “will protect and enshrine the concepts of freedom, liberty, and personal responsibility in our Lone Star State.” In the letter, Rinaldi also described the results of the recent legislative session as delivering “probably the most sweeping conservative change ever passed in our Texas State Legislature.”