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Breaking News Alert This Week In Lawfare Land: What Happens Next?

AG Ken Paxton Calls On Texas House Speaker To Resign Over Slurring Episode, Stymying Election Integrity Bills

Texas AG Ken Paxton giving a press conference
Image CreditKVUE/YouTube

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called on the state House Speaker Dade Phelan to resign on Tuesday after the latter appeared to perform his duties as speaker while drunk during a recent House floor session.

Phelan has gone viral on social media in recent days for appearing to be intoxicated while presiding over a recent session in the Texas House of Representatives. In the video below, Phelan is seen badly slurring and fumbling over his words.

“After much consideration, it is with profound disappointment that I call on Speaker Dade Phelan to resign at the end of this legislative session. Texans were dismayed to witness his performance presiding over the Texas House in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication,” Paxton said. “His conduct has negatively impacted the legislative process and constitutes a failure to live up to his duty to the public.”

Paxton separately referred Phelan’s actions to the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee for investigation, according to a letter from the attorney general.

In his Tuesday statement, Paxton also blasted Phelan for failing to advance “critical conservative priorities” during this year’s legislative session, including election integrity bills and measures designed to prevent “Chinese spies from controlling Texas land.”

“His failures as Speaker have created a credibility crisis for all Republican candidates and for our entire Party,” Paxton added.

As The Federalist previously reported, Phelan has been the main figure preventing Texas from banning unsecured election practices such as ranked-choice voting (RCV). For context, RCV is a system where voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes in the first round of voting, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and his votes are reallocated to the voter’s second-choice candidate. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority of votes.

In practice, RCV has most often been used as a way for incumbent establishment Republicans to retain office when they might otherwise be eliminated in a partisan primary, as was the case in Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s midterm election victory in Alaska.

Since its passage in the Senate, a bill banning RCV (SB 921) has been stalled in the House Committee on Elections. When previously pressed for comment on whether Phelan intends to use his position as speaker to help pass SB 921 and whether he supports RCV, Phelan’s press secretary, Cassi Pollock, declined to comment on the matter, writing, “Our office does not have a comment.”

If SB 921 does not pass the House when Texas’ 2023 session ends on May 29, legislative efforts to ban ranked-choice voting in Texas elections will be stymied for another two years. Unlike most states, which hold annual legislative sessions, the Texas Legislature meets once every two years, in odd-numbered years.

It’s worth mentioning that Phelan received a substantial amount of support from House Democrats during his bid for speaker in 2021. Despite Republicans holding a majority in the chamber, Phelan selected Democrats to chair 13 of the House’s 34 committees. After receiving backlash from Texas conservatives, he reduced the number of Democrat committee chairs to eight during this year’s session.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Texas Republicans have had to deal with a weak-kneed House speaker. The state’s previous speaker, Republican Dennis Bonnen, resigned after a recording became public revealing efforts by Bonnen to target members of his own party. Before Bonnen was longtime Speaker and moderate Joe Straus, who caved on major culture war issues. In 2017, for example, Straus “used his power to block bills passed in the Senate that would require people to use restrooms in public schools and government-run buildings that correspond” with his or her sex rather than what he or she “identifies” as. Texas Republican Party leaders ultimately censured Straus over his actions.

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