Here’s a quick recap of what happened over the last week:

Results of May 28th Runoffs

Six of the eight Republican House incumbents that were forced into runoffs were defeated in the runoff election on Tuesday.  And all six were soundly defeated, all losing by at least 10 points or more.  With the nine that were defeated on the March 5th primary day, there were a total of 15 House Republican incumbents defeated this cycle, all by challengers from the more conservative faction of the party.  And there were nine new members elected in open seats – due to retirements by the incumbents – that were also mostly from the far-right wing of the party.  That brings the total to 24 newly elected Republican House members that are considerably more conservative than the members they are replacing.

Incumbent House Speaker Dade Phelan of Beaumont narrowly won reelection to his House seat, defeating challenger David Covey by 366 votes out of over 25,000 cast.  He immediately said he will seek a third term as Speaker.  But the new, more conservative makeup of the House Republican caucus will present a challenge for Phelan.  Lt. Governor Dan Patrick doubled down on his feud with Phelan, saying that Phelan only won the race because of the support of Democrats.  In a statement, Patrick claimed that 1,400 voters with a history of voting in the Democratic primary voted for Phelan, which propelled him to victory.  Patrick went on to say that Phelan “sold out the Republican party by relying on Democrats” to win his race.  AG Ken Paxton echoed Patrick’s comments, saying “Democrats just reelected Dade Phelan.”

So, heading into the November races and the next regular session, we know that in addition to the 24 new Republican House members, there will also be six new Democrats in the House.  But the overall partisan makeup of 86-64 in favor of the Republicans should not change much after the November elections.  There are realistically only 5 seats that have the potential to flip from one party to another.  Democratic Rep. Mihela Plesa in Collin County and Republican Rep. John Lujan of San Antonio are in the two seats with the closest of margins regarding partisan makeup.  Rep. Janie Lopez of Brownsville will have to fight hard to keep her Rio Grande Valley seat in Republican hands.  The open seat in south Texas running from Laredo to Uvalde could flip to Republican hands after the retirement of longtime Democratic Rep. Tracy King and the Corpus area seat held by outgoing Democratic Rep. Abel Herrero could also change to Republican control.

Speaker Race Update

The first declared candidate to challenge Phelan for the Speaker’s gavel – Rep. Tom Oliverson of Houston – has said that even though Phelan won his primary race, he is not backing away from this Speaker’s race.  Oliverson said after Phelan’s victory that “the conservative Republican majority have spoken, and they want the Texas House to move in a different direction.”  Oliverson said he believes that the Speaker must be chosen by a majority of the Republican caucus and not brokered by a combination of a small number of Republicans aligning with the Democrats.

And yesterday, Phelan picked up a 2nd challenger when 2nd term Republican Rep. Shelby Slawson of Stephenville announced her candidacy by sending a scathing letter to her House Republican colleagues condemning Phelan’s leadership as being “tight fisted and top down.”  She criticized Phelan’s inner circle of leadership as “an arrogant cadre that puts us at odds with our grassroots supporters and our own members.”  Slawson is considered one of the chamber’s most conservative members and made her splash on the scene when she authored the “heartbeat” bill in 2021 that prohibited abortions after the 6th week of pregnancy.  She was also one of the 23 House Republicans that voted against the impeachment of AG Ken Paxton.

Gov. Abbott Says House has Votes for Vouchers

Gov. Abbott made no secret of his support for a private school voucher program during the primary season.  All of his endorsements and financial support were based on a member’s or candidate’s support of a voucher program.  Ten of the 15 House Republican incumbents that were defeated in the primary or runoffs were opponents of the voucher program.  Abbott spent nearly $6 million from his campaign account and the Club for Growth PAC – formed primarily to support pro-voucher candidates – spent $4 million just in the runoff period.  In the end, between the members that were defeated and the incumbents that did not seek reelection, Abbott has declared that there are now 14 new voucher legislation supporters.  Thus, he claims the votes are there to pass voucher legislation next session.  Last session, 21 Republicans teamed with the Democrats to defeat the voucher legislation.  With the new supporters, the numbers in theory are there to pass the legislation.  However, the certainty of passage will not be known until the actual details of the legislation are presented.

Texas Republicans Select New Chair, Adopt Platform

The far-right wing of the Republican Party of Texas continued its control over the party by selecting former Collin County GOP chair Abraham George as its new party chair.  Two rounds of voting were needed for George to defeat current Vice-Chair Dana Meyers for the position – which was open due to outgoing Chair Matt Rinaldi choosing not to seek another term as chair.  George has pledged to continue the current trajectory of the party of challenging more moderate members of the party in primary elections.

The platform adopted by the party also continues the very conservative agenda on which the party has ridden in recent elections.  Among the highlights of the adopted platform is a call for new legislation to require the Bible to be taught in public schools, closing the primary elections, and a new requirement to have statewide candidates to win a majority of the popular vote in at least half of the state’s 254 counties.

By closing the primary election process in Texas, the platform calls for allowing people to vote in the Republican primary if they have voted in the Republican primary the year before, are formally registered with the Republican Party of Texas, or are voting for the first time in a primary election.  The party is also calling for statewide officials to win a majority of the popular vote in at least half of the state’s counties.  This would prove to eliminate any Democrats from winning a statewide race.  Democratic votes are generally concentrated in the most populous counties – Harris, Dallas, Travis – and in South Texas.  In 2022, Gov. Abbott carried 235 of the state’s 254 counties.  There are significant questions regarding the constitutionality of this proposal because it would bring into question the voting power of minorities in the state.

Seven Dead in North Texas Storms

More severe weather in the state last weekend as powerful storms swept through North Texas, killing 7 people, injuring over 100, and leaving hundreds more without homes.  The hardest hit areas were in Denton and Cooke Counties, where the winds were strong enough to overturn 18-wheelers and destroy an AP Travel Center where people had gathered to seek shelter from the storms.  Valley View, a small town in Cooke County, experienced widespread destruction, including homes that were leveled, power lines downed, and RVs overturned.

The state of Texas leads the nation in catastrophic weather events in 2024.  According to the National Weather Service, the state has experienced 1,332 weather events so far in 2024, including 706 hailstorms, 530 strong wind events, and 96 tornadoes.  May 28th — the day of the event mentioned above in the Dallas area — was also the busiest of the year so far with 68 events of high winds and 40 reports of hailstorms.

Political Notes

The US House Ethics Committee announced this week they are opening an investigation into Congressman Henry Cuellar, Democrat from Laredo.  He is under federal indictment regarding accusations of bribery, money laundering, and illegal foreign influence.  The indictment alleges Cuellar and his wife accepted over $600,000 in bribes to advance the interests of a bank in Mexico and companies from Azerbaijan.  The committee will establish a special subcommittee to determine the validity of these charges and whether or not Cuellar used his office for personal gain.  If the committee substantiates the charges, they can recommend anything from censure to expulsion from Congress.  Cuellar maintains his innocence and is still seeking reelection.  He will face Republican Jay Furman in November.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo – rumored to be a possible Democratic statewide candidate in 2026 – announced this week she will seek a third term as the chief executive of the state’s most populous county in 2026.  Hidalgo was under a great deal of scrutiny in 2022 when she took an extended leave of absence to address ongoing mental health issues. Despite the criticism, she was reelected to her 2nd term in 2022.  Hidalgo stunned the Harris County establishment when she scored a victory over longtime Republican incumbent Judge Ed Emmett.

What’s Next??

The runoff election is complete and there is a full-fledged Speaker’s race in the House.  Four incumbent House committee chairs were defeated, so those committees may not have an active interim schedule.  However, the others will now begin to have hearings as the Speaker’s race unfolds and the preparations begin for next session.

Next week, the House Human Services committee meets to discuss the state’s role in overseeing Medicaid managed care contracting services.

The Senate Criminal Justice committee meets to discuss bail reform and to review state policies on stopping child predators who use online tools to harm or exploit children.