AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Nov. 4, 2020, the day after Republicans cemented their control on the Texas Legislature – Beaumont Republican Dade Phelan announced he had the votes to become the next Speaker of the Texas House, in large part because of a block of support from Democratic members.
“The race is over,” he said following the divisive election cycle. “Now is the time to heal and the service begins today.”
Democrats expressed optimism early on about Phelan’s bipartisan leadership abilities heading into the 87th Legislative Session, which as it ended on Friday was described by many as the most conservative session in recent memory. So, what did they get in return?
Culture wars expected in the Texas Senate under its presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, found new success in the Texas House. Gov. Greg Abbott has already signed into law some of the strictest abortion restrictions in the country and is expected to approve legislation allowing for the permitless carry of firearms, soon.
But other Republican priorities – like requiring transgender students to play on sports teams associated with their biological gender, instead of gender identity – failed to pass before crucial deadlines. Democrats in the Texas House blocked a bill to impose new restrictions on voting – for now – by walking off the floor on the final day of the legislative session, though Gov. Greg Abbott has already vowed to attach election integrity to a special session agenda.
“We did a lot of bad things this session that I’m really surprised we delt with,” said state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, an Austin Democrat. “I like Dade Phelan, personally, I think he’s done as good of a job as he could to reign in some of that but I think his caucus was pushing for some of this.”
While Democrats were still licking their wounds from the session, many commended Speaker Phelan for progress on key issues – solidifying the state’s historic commitment to public school funding and expanding health care coverage for children and new mothers.
“I think if Speaker Dade Phelan were the only leader in state government making decisions, we’d see a very different outcome this session,” said state Rep. James Talarico, a Williamson County Democrat. “I hope the Speaker, once he gets more experience, is able to stand up more effectively to the extreme voices in his party, particularly the Lt. Governor and the Governor.”
Patrick, on the other hand, has taken shots at Phelan in recent days for not passing more of his legislative priorities.
“These bills died in the House, we passed these in March and April,” Patrick told KXAN. “They’ve been sitting over there for a month and they wait to the last two or three days. You’re just asking for trouble.”