TEXAS VIEW: Republican schism on display again with Dade Phelan censure

THE POINT: The Texas GOP continues its attacks against nonconformity.

The Texas GOP’s war against itself continued this month when its executive committee voted overwhelmingly to censure Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan “for lack of fidelity to Republican principles and priorities.”

This kind of bullying and obsession with total party purity can only lead to more extremists in office and ultimately worse representation for Texans.

Phelan is under fire for his role in the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, a bipartisan measure that 121 of the 149 members of the House supported. It’s clear that this attack is an extension of the revenge campaign Paxton has been on, endorsing primary challenges against many solid Republicans who voted against him. It’s disgraceful, if typical behavior from our embattled attorney general and his cronies.

The resolution to censure Phelan also complains that he “refused to comment in support” of the party’s push for school vouchers. Alongside another grievance that Phelan allowed a border bill to die, the resolution dings him for appointing Democrats to House committee chairmanships as well. The practice is banned under the state GOP’s legislative priorities for the 88th session.

As speaker, Phelan should be free to appoint those he considers most qualified to chair positions, whether there is a “D” or an “R” next to their name. Sixty-four out of the 150 representatives in the state House are Democrats. Republicans have a firm lead, but a significant number of Texans chose Democrats as their representatives, and those representatives shouldn’t be excluded from leadership roles.

The party’s censure against Phelan is hardly surprising; this is only a symptom of infighting that’s been going on for years. In 2017, we named then-Speaker Joe Straus Texan of the Year for his courage in opposing a poorly formulated “bathroom bill.” A month later, and after he announced he was not seeking reelection, the Texas GOP censured him.

In 2022, the party voted to censure another Republican legislator willing to work with Democrats. For supporting legal protections for same-sex marriages and a bipartisan gun safety act, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales was “canceled.” And in 2023, state Rep. Andrew Murr of Junction got the same treatment, largely because of his leading role in the Paxton impeachment.

There was a time when the GOP tolerated disagreement among its members, at least to a point. That allowed elected leaders to govern with their constituents top of mind and to vote with their conscience.

That kind of good governance will go extinct with these party litmus tests.

The Dallas Morning News