Texas House elects Dade Phelan speaker as 2021 legislative session gets underway

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, held a press conference at the capitol to declare that he had enough votes to become Speaker of the House. Nov 4, 2020. (Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune)

The Texas House on Tuesday elected state Rep. Dade Phelan as the next House speaker, ushering into office a new leader who will oversee a chamber facing its toughest set of legislative challenges in years against the backdrop of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The House voted 143-2 for Phelan, with four members not voting. The two members who voted against Phelan were GOP freshmen Bryan Slaton and Jeff Cason.

Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, replaced former House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who retired from office thanks to a secret recording scandal that fractured relationships in the 150-member lower chamber. Phelan has billed himself as a figure who has earned the trust of his colleagues and who wants to lead the House by letting members drive the business of it.

Phelan’s election to the gavel was one of the House’s first orders of business Tuesday, when the Legislature gaveled in for the 2021 legislative session.

The issues on the Legislature’s plate this year, such as grappling with projected shortfalls to the state budget and redrawing the state’s political maps, are expected to be particularly grueling as lawmakers legislate during a public health crisis — and how Phelan handles the challenge as a new leader under a brighter-than-ever spotlight will be one of the most consequential dynamics at the Capitol as business gets underway.