May 29, 2024 - Politics

Texas speaker survives as Abbott wins big

Photo illustration of Texas Governor Greg Abbott with lines radiating from him.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Bill Clark/Getty Images

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan and Gov. Greg Abbott were big winners in a Republican primary runoff Tuesday dripping with intra-party intrigue and rife with policy implications.

Why it matters: Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont, staved off a challenger backed by Attorney General Ken Paxton, eager for revenge after his impeachment in the Texas House last year, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has a running personal spat with the more moderate speaker.

By the numbers: At a March policy conference in Austin, Abbott had said he needed at least two more votes in favor of school vouchers — public money for private school tuition — to guarantee its passage.

  • Abbott had stayed out of the Phelan race but spent $2.3 million since the primary supporting pro-voucher candidates in runoffs.
  • Three anti-voucher Republican incumbents were ousted Tuesday night: Reps. DeWayne Burns of Cleburne, Justin Holland of Rockwall and John Kuempel of Seguin.
  • Only anti-voucher Republican incumbent Gary VanDeaver of New Boston prevailed over his Abbott-backed challenger Tuesday night.
  • Three other Republican House incumbents, Lynn Stucky of Denton, Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth and Frederick Frazier of McKinney, also lost, to challengers endorsed by Paxton.

The big picture: Phelan is now poised to retain his speakership, but Abbott likely now can rally Republicans to push his signature issue, which already has buy-in from the state Senate.

Follow the money: Through May 20, Phelan's campaign reported spending $3.8 million on the runoff, more than twice Covey's $1.6 million.

  • Abbott spent more than $8 million of his campaign money on the primaries and two pro-voucher groups spent roughly $6 million in the runoff, per the Texas Tribune.

What they're saying: Phelan, cigar in hand at a victory party Tuesday night, said his district "is not for sale," after winning by 366 votes in the most expensive race in Texas House history.

What's next: Paxton threatened Tuesday night that lawmakers supporting Phelan for speaker when the Legislature reconvenes next year will be the next political targets.

  • He said Phelan had "blatantly stolen" the election because Democrats had supported him.
  • Texas has open primaries, which means regardless of which party voters typically favor, they can choose which party's nominees they'd like to select in a primary election.
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