Beaumont Republican Dade Phelan secures vote to become next Texas House speaker

Dade Phelan will take control of the state House as Texas faces budget shortfall while grappling with coronavirus pandemic.

AUSTIN — State Rep. Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican first elected in 2014, said Wednesday he has secured votes from members of both parties in the Texas House to assume the speakership when the Legislature convenes in January.

Pehlan, 45, made his announcement just hours after it was clear from Tuesday's elections that Republicans will keep control of the 150-member House. He will succeed Angleton Republican Dennis Bonnen, a longtime House veteran who after one term as speaker did not seek re-election this year.

State Rep. Dade Phelan, right, a Beaumont Republican, with Gov. Greg Abbott in the Texas House chamber during the 2019 legislative session.

Phelan promised to run an open, bi-partisan lower chamber and plans to meet with as many members as possible to hear their concerns and what they hope to accomplish during coming 140-day session.

"Leadership must be diverse. It must look like Texas and give a meaningful voice to different people throughout the state," Phelan said at a hastily arranged news conference in the Capitol.

"Politics is over. Last night was tough. It was tough for a lot of people. It was a very long, long process."

In the days leading up to the election before it was clear which party would gain the majority in the House, several members from both parties declared their intention to run for speaker. The GOP's victories across the state made the Democratic candidates' efforts moot and Phelan wasted little time assembling 83 firm votes, including about 30 Democrats.

He said he expects the list to grow. Typically, once a member receives the votes needed to win the speaker's gavel, all or nearly all of the other members fall in line.

However, there was a twist later Wednesday. East Texas Republican Trent Ashby, told the political newsletter The Quorum Report he would remain in the races and called for all GOP members to united behind a single hopeful before the formal vote on the first day of the 2021 legislative session.

Then Ashby reversed course and urged the GOP caucus to unite behind Victoria Republican Geanie Morrison.

Phelan, who operates a commercial real estate development firm, quickly assumed a leadership role in the House. Last session, he chaired the powerful House State Affairs Committee. He has also served on the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee and as vice chairman of the Natural Resources Committee.

He will move into the speaker's office at a time when Texas is still grappling with the contagious and sometimes deadly coronavirus pandemic and while the state is expected to face a massive budget shortfall related to the economic downturn sparked by that pandemic.

In 2015, the political newsletter Capitol Inside included Phelan among the most outstanding freshmen. Two years later the publication named him the Legislature's "the Most Valuable Sophomore." Texas Monthly included him on its list of  Best Legislators in 2019.

John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at jmoritz@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.