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Rick Perry stumps for Speaker Dade Phelan in final days of primary election

By Jess Huff, The Texas Tribune

Rick Perry stumps for Speaker Dade Phelan in final days of primary election” 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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VIDOR — Former Gov. Rick Perry was on the campaign trail stumping with the embattled Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, on Thursday as early voting stretched into its final day.

The two have a longstanding relationship that began in the 1990s when Phelan’s family supported Perry’s bid for Texas Agriculture Commissioner as he stumped through a region that used to be a Democratic stronghold.

“There’s a personal loyalty issue for me that goes back 30 plus years,” Perry told the Texas Tribune. “I’ve watched [Phelan] perform his duties as speaker. Listen, it’s a hard job, I get that, there’s a real balancing act. But think our system works best where you are balanced.”

Heading into the March 5 primary election, Phelan is fighting the most intense reelection battle of his political career as powerful Republicans have lined up to attack him, including former President Donald Trump and his ally Attorney General Ken Paxton who is hopping mad over the House’s impeachment of him this summer. Phelan’s opponent in the race David Covey also has the support of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, in addition to the Texas GOP chair Matt Rinaldi.

So it’s notable that Perry, who served as Energy Secretary in Trump’s administration, is crossing his former boss to defend Phelan among the state’s top conservatives.

“When [Trump] is the nominee for the Republican Party, I will work as hard as anybody, but I don’t have to be a robot and I’m not going to be a robot,” Perry told the Texas Tribune. “I kind of can make my own decisions.”

Supporters listen as Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan addresses the crowd alongside former Gov. Rick Perry at a Get Out the Vote Rally on Thursday, February 29, 2024, in Vidor, Texas. Deep fissures within the Republican Party have placed Phelan as the No. 1 enemy of Texas’ far-right conservatives.
Attendees listen as Phelan addresses the crowd alongside former Gov. Rick Perry at the campaign event. Credit: Callaghan O’Hare for The Texas Tribune
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan addresses the crowd during a Get Out the Vote Rally on Thursday, February 29, 2024, in Vidor, Texas. Deep fissures within the Republican Party have placed Phelan as the No. 1 enemy of Texas’ far-right conservatives.
“I ask for your vote, I ask for your support, and I ask for your prayers,” Phelan said to the crowd. Credit: Callaghan O’Hare for The Texas Tribune

Perry also stumped with Phelan earlier this month in Beaumont at an event where he jokingly declared that “RINOs,” or Republicans in Name Only, are “sexy,” in response to the avalanche of attacks on Phelan who has been labeled a traitor to his party by Paxton and the far-right.

“We have folks that want to influence this election who don’t live here,” Perry told the crowd on Thursday at Rikenjaks Brewing Company in a small town outside of Beaumont. “My bet is that the bulk of the people who are trying to weigh in and tell you how to vote have never even been to Beaumont, have never even been to Orange County or Jasper County or Jefferson County.”

Phelan was censured by the Republican Party on Feb. 10, a move that was passed originally by the Jasper County Republican Party. He’s been criticized by members of his party for his willingness to appoint Democrats to committee chairs in the House and for his vote in favor of impeaching Paxton, who was later acquitted by the Senate.

Phelan’s willingness to work with Democrats is not a sign of weak Republican leadership, Perry said, but an understanding that permitting other House members to represent their district protects Democracy.

“The speaker’s role is not to be a dictator,” Perry said to the crowd.

He later added that he was worried about the trend of Republicans so aggressively attacking members of their own party.“I think if we continue down this path, pointing our guns inside the tent, that is the definition of suicide,” Perry said in an interview.

Perry has also endorsed a handful of other candidates who are being targeted by Paxton for supporting impeachment, like Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who was a House impeachment manager in Paxton’s Senate trial; and Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who is running for the North Texas congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Kay Granger. Paxton has endorsed both candidates’ opponents.

“I think Paxton is morally, ethically and legally challenged,” Perry told the Texas Tribune on Thursday. “And I’ve said as much. Defending that type of activity is a fool’s error.”

Former Gov. Rick Perry expresses his support for Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan at a Get Out the Vote Rally on Thursday, February 29, 2024, in Vidor, Texas. Deep fissures within the Republican Party have placed Phelan as the No. 1 enemy of Texas’ far-right conservatives.
Former Gov. Rick Perry expresses his support for House Speaker Dade Phelan at a campaign event on Thursday. Credit: Callaghan O’Hare for The Texas Tribune
A supporter of Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan wears a campaign button ahead of a Get Out the Vote Rally on Thursday, February 29, 2024, in Vidor, Texas. Deep fissures within the Republican Party have placed Phelan as the No. 1 enemy of Texas’ far-right conservatives.
A supporter of Phelan wears a campaign button ahead of the event on Thursday. Credit: Callaghan O’Hare for The Texas Tribune

Perry and Phelan were flocked by southeast Texans as they entered the brewery on Thursday afternoon. The politicians spent the first 45 minutes shaking hands, taking pictures and holding babies. Perry was welcomed to the stage by Orange County Commissioner Robert Viator and a standing ovation from the audience.

“I ask for your vote, I ask for your support, and I ask for your prayers,” Phelan said to the crowd.

He touted his conservative record passing pro-Second Amendment, anti-abortion laws as speaker, and the passage of border security laws as speaker.

Joy and Jimmy Smith, who attended the event, said Phelan is a Christian man who has advocated for their values and represented them well in Austin. While they don’t like what other Republicans have said about Phelan, they aren’t worried.

“It’s politics, they’re going to say what they say about each other until after the election, and then most of them will shake hands and be friends,” Joy Smith said.

They believe Phelan has the support of his region. Orange County Republican Party Chairman Leo Labauve agrees, and said his focus has not been on politics, but on Phelan’s policy work.

“We’re all here supporting Dade Phelan and his cause because we believe in him,” he said.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/02/29/rick-perry-dade-phelan-primary-election/.

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