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Texas runoff election sets races for November after Republican party civil war

House Speaker Dade Phelan survives brutal primary challenge
House Speaker Dade Phelan survives brutal primary challenge 04:02

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan survived the nasty primary runoff for his seat while fellow conservative state Rep. Justin Holland lost his suburban Dallas seat to Trump 2016 spokeswoman Katrina Pierson in two of the highest-profile races in the increasingly bloody internal war among Texas Republicans. 

Despite the Republicans' 84-66 majority in the state House of Representatives and successful conservative agenda from the 2023 legislative session, 15 House Republicans lost to challengers either in primaries in March or in the runoffs on Tuesday night. The Republicans were victims of the intra-party war, with Attorney General Ken Paxton taking aim at Republicans who voted to impeach him last year and separately, Gov. Greg Abbott backed challengers to the Republicans who voted against his school voucher bill. 

Six of the eight incumbents on Tuesday night lost to challengers, with Abbott declaring Tuesday night that he had enough votes to pass his voucher bill. Last fall, 21 state House Republicans — mainly from rural districts — joined with all the Democrats to defeat his voucher bill. Abbott backed several challengers to Republicans who voted against his bill. 

Phelan, who has represented the Beaumont area since 2015 and has been speaker for two terms, did not pressure his members to back Abbott's bill in a special November legislative session, according to the Texas Tribune

Texas Legislature Voting Bills
Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan oversees debate over a voting bill in the House Chamber at the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, Tuesday, May 23, 2023. Eric Gay / AP

Although Abbott stayed out of Phelan's race, Paxton had vowed to defeat him and challenger David Covey even managed to get the endorsement of former President Donald Trump and powerful Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. 

On Tuesday, Phelan managed to stave off Covey by fewer than 500 votes, according to The Associated Press. 

"I am immensely grateful to the voters of Southeast Texas, who have spoken loud and clear: in Southeast Texas, we set our own course—our community is not for sale, and our values are not up for auction," Phelan said in a statement. "I owe a profound debt of gratitude to every voter and volunteer whose relentless dedication turned that vision into tonight's resounding victory."

After the result, Paxton posted on social media "Texas AG Ken Paxton's Statement on Dade Phelan Stealing Election" and called for the primaries to be closed only to Republicans. 

"My message to Austin is clear: 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. "You will not return if you vote for Dade Phelan again!"

Phelan was targeted by Paxton for leading the impeachment case in the Texas House last year against Paxton, one of Trump's closest allies. Phelan had launched the investigation into Paxton early in the 2023 legislative session and moved forward with impeaching Paxton related to allegations of misconduct, including bribery and abuse of office. 

Health Care Troubles
The Texas Capitol is viewed from its south side on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2005, in Austin, Texas.  HARRY CABLUCK / AP

Ahead of the impeachment vote, Paxton accused Phelan of being drunk on the House floor. 

Sixty House Republicans — more than two-thirds of the 84 total Republicans in the House — joined all 66 Democrats in voting to impeach Paxton on 20 articles. Paxton was ultimately acquitted in the GOP-controlled state Senate.

The victorious Paxton then endorsed challengers to those who voted to impeach him and embarked on a "statewide Fall tour" to campaign for them. Facing the Paxton-backed challenger, impeachment manager Republican Rep. Andrew Murr, the grandson of Coke Stevenson, who famously lost the 1948 contested Senate election to Lyndon Johnson, opted not to run for reelection

Phelan came in second in the March primary, but Covey did not secure the 50% vote necessary to stave off a runoff. 

The five state House representatives representing Paxton's home county, Collin County, were among the 60 who voted to impeach him. In a joint statement, they said the vote was an "incredibly difficult vote as, for most of us, Ken has been a long time friend."

One of those five, Paxton's hometown legislator, Rep. Frederick Frazier, was defeated Tuesday night by challenger Keresa Richardson. In addition to being targeted by Paxton, Frazier had pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and no contest on two misdemeanor charges for allegedly impersonating a public official.

Another of Paxton's targets was Holland, who also represents Paxton's home district of Collin County. Abbott backed Pierson in the primary given Holland's vote against school vouchers. Holland had also angered the right wing of the party after voting out of committee a bill that had zero chance of passing the House floor that would have raised the age for gun background checks after a shooting in his district.

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