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Attorney General Ken Paxton campaigns against House Speaker Dade Phelan in his own district

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Attorney General Ken Paxton campaigns against House Speaker Dade Phelan in his own district” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton on Monday ramped up his political revenge tour following his impeachment last year with a visit to the district of his biggest target: House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont.

Paxton spent the day in southeast Texas campaigning with David Covey, a GOP activist from the area who is challenging Phelan in the March primary. The Phelan-led House, including most Republicans, impeached Paxton in May on abuse-of-power charges and the Senate acquitted him after a trial in September.

Appearing together Monday evening in Beaumont, Paxton praised Covey for his “tremendous courage” in challenging the speaker and bashed Phelan as being too deferential to Democrats.

“We have to protect Texas, and it’s guys like David Covey that are gonna go down there and undo what the speaker has done,” Paxton said.

Paxton campaigned with Covey earlier in the day in Orange, and he was set to head Tuesday to North Texas for more campaign stops for Texas House candidates. Paxton has gone on an endorsement spree since his acquittal, mostly backing primary challengers to the dozens of House Republicans who voted to impeach him.

Paxton’s efforts are not just focused on the House. While in Beaumont, he also pitched three primary challengers he recruited to run against judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which angered him in 2021 when it struck down his power to unilaterally prosecute voter fraud.

Phelan has been unapologetic about the impeachment, which has made him not only a target of Paxton but also deepened a rift with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Patrick served as judge in the trial and ended it with a speech accusing the House of cutting corners in its impeachment process.

During a campaign stop last week in Port Neches, Phelan said Paxton and Patrick “have a problem with me because I’m gonna do what’s best for the state of Texas,” not what is best for them.

“I’m not gonna turn my back on corruption, I’m not gonna turn my back on malfeasance,” Phelan said. “I’m gonna do the right thing all day long, every day.”

As Paxton was campaigning with Covey on Monday evening, Phelan announced the endorsement of former Gov. Rick Perry, who had lobbied state senators to consider the evidence against Paxton. Perry’s endorsement called Phelan a “fearless conservative and a Texas Hero.”

Covey and other Phelan critics have sought to undermine the speaker’s record by highlighting GOP priorities that have not made it out of the House, like Abbott’s yearlong push for school vouchers. They have also pointed to Phelan’s adherence to a tradition of appointing Democratic committee chairs.

“Friends, in one time, slavery was a tradition here, but a Republican stood up and said, Enough is enough,” Covey said Monday evening. He added that Phelan is “undermining and selling out our state.”

Phelan has defended Democratic committee chairs as a worthwhile practice that prevents the Legislature from seeing the kind of gridlock that regularly grips Congress. Even then, he boasted during the Port Neches stop that last year he appointed “fewer Democratic chairs than any other speaker’s ever appointed in the history of the state of Texas as long as we’re Republican.”

Paxton’s appearance in Beaumont came as the state was dealing with unusually freezing conditions that appeared to put a damper on turnout. Paxton left early due to anticipated road conditions, according to an organizer.

Covey is an oil-and-gas consultant and the former chair of the Orange County GOP. Alicia Davis, an anti-tax activist from Jasper, is also running against Phelan in the March 5 primary.

Phelan has taken the contest seriously, airing TV ads touting his conservative bona fides since November. He more recently got the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, which cited the House’s 2021 passage of a law allowing permitless carry of handguns.

Asked about the NRA endorsement Monday, Covey said he was prouder to have high marks from the Gun Owners of America, which bills itself as a harder-line alternative to the NRA. The NRA, Covey added, has “gone astray and that makes me sad.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/01/15/ken-paxton-dade-phelan/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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