Texas House Speaker Phelan Rebukes Abbott and Patrick On Illegal Voting And Winter Storm Response

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott may have gotten on House Speaker Dade Phelan's last nerve.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott may have gotten on House Speaker Dade Phelan's last nerve. Screenshot
In a series of tweets Thursday night, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) publicly broke with Gov. Greg Abbott over Abbott's insistence that Texas lawmakers should increase penalties for voting illegally, and disagreed with Gov. Dan Patrick’s assertion that retiring state Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) couldn’t be trusted based on his approach to winter storm response.

Thursday night, Abbott announced that he was adding yet another item to the agenda of the still ongoing third special legislative session of the year: increasing the penalties for voting illegally, which the Legislature had actually reduced weeks prior in the election reform bill Abbott signed.

In the final version of Senate Bill 1, the controversial GOP-backed “election integrity” bill, the House had added an amendment that lowered the maximum penalty for voting illegally to one year in prison, down from a minimum of two years and a maximum of 20.

While Abbott didn’t make a fuss about the penalty reduction at the time the final bill was passed or when he signed it into law in mid-September, he issued a statement and sent a letter to the Texas House and Senate Thursday night demanding that lawmakers pass “Legislation increasing the penalties for illegal voting that were reduced in Senate Bill No 1.”

Patrick quickly fell in line, tweeting that he agreed with Abbott and that his Republican Senate would pass a bill reinstating the higher penalties this coming week.
But Phelan took the opposite route, tweeting a statement that indicated he has no intention to push the House to revisit election legislation.

“SB 1, passed during the second special session, makes Texas elections safer and more secure,” Phelan claimed. “After two quorum breaks by a number of House Democrats, this important legislation made its way through the House after several thoughtful amendments were adopted. SB 1 was then passed by the Senate after both chambers and the Office of the Attorney General thoroughly reviewed and weighed in on the bill.”

“With much acclaim from elected officials and voters, Governor Greg Abbott then signed the bill into law. Now is not the time to re-litigate,” he wrote. “Instead, the House will remain focused on its constitutional obligation to pass redistricting maps, and members look forward to fulfilling this critical task.”

"With much acclaim from elected officials and voters, Governor Greg Abbott then signed the bill into law. Now is not the time to re-litigate." — Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan

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Earlier Thursday night, Patrick issued an incensed statement after the state’s Public Utilities Commission voted to approve a $2.1 billion payment to retail electric companies, which Patrick claimed would “inevitably enrich some companies who made money during Winter Storm Uri since the settlement agreement the PUC endorsed does not provide transparency to distinguish between companies that made money and those who lost.”

Patrick specifically argued that Paddie, the author of the House bill that authorized the $2.1 billion for state electric companies, “has been disingenuous through the legislative process and after,” alleging that Paddie was in favor of the PUC’s decision to not publicly disclose whether electric companies who got part of the $2.1 billion settlement were affiliated with any companies who actually made money during the crisis.

Patrick has wanted “netting” to be factored into any payments to electric companies, which in layman’s terms means retail electric companies that lost money during the storm wouldn’t get payouts from the state if those companies had affiliates that profited when the cost of electricity skyrocketed.

“After passage of the bill, Rep. Paddie wrongly told the PUC the legislative intent of the bill did not include netting, despite on the record evidence during the passage of the bill to the contrary,” Patrick wrote. “Now, his motivations have been exposed as he prepares to leave the legislature and may be seeking a highly compensated position in the same electric industry that stands to benefit from his position of no netting and no transparency,” Patrick alleged.

“Rep. Paddie has forfeited his credibility with my office and with many members of the Texas Senate,” Patrick wrote.

Minutes before his tweet in rebuke of Abbott, Phelan tweeted in defense of his House colleague Paddie after Patrick’s attack.

“I am grateful for Chairman Paddie’s steady leadership, his character, and his integrity, all of which were integral to the passage of landmark legislation in the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri,” Phelan wrote.

While Phelan and Patrick have publicly disagreed over whether or not the state should have retroactively  lowered the electricity rates the Electric Reliability Council of Texas set during the winter storm, Phelan hasn’t been known to break with Abbott so vocally during his tenure atop the Texas House.

Even when Abbott vetoed all funding of the Texas Legislature out of anger that the chamber failed to pass his priority “election integrity” bill, Phelan only tepidly criticized the move, but mostly stayed quiet on the issue. And despite his previous disagreements with Patrick, Phelan's strong statement in support of Paddie was one of the most clear and forceful rebuttals against Patrick that Phelan has made since winning the Speaker's gavel in January.

After nearly nine straight months of lawmaking and hundreds of hours of heated debates about election laws, the winter storm and a whole host of other issues, it appears the generally soft-spoken Phelan may be losing his patience with his fellow two Republicans in the Texas state government’s “Big Three.”
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Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards