Hardline Arlington Republican Tony Tinderholt Is Running for State House Speaker against Dade Phelan

Some Republicans celebrated the last legislative session as the most conservative in state history.
Some Republicans celebrated the last legislative session as the most conservative in state history. illustration by Sarah Schumacher
On Friday, with only five days left until voters head to the polls for the midterm elections, Texas state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republican from Arlington, announced his bid to unseat State House speaker Dade Phelan.

Tinderholt broke the news that he’d filed paperwork to run for speaker of the state Legislature’s lower chamber in a statement posted on Twitter Friday. The vote for House speaker will happen once the next legislative session begins.

“Will the priority legislation of the Republican Party of Texas receive a vote on the Texas House floor?” he wrote. “The truth is, we have no idea with our current speaker in control.”

Tinderholt summed up his beef with Phelan, who’s become a target of many hardline Republicans since taking up the post last year, by saying that Texas Republicans have grown to expect their policies to “die at the hands of liberal committee chairs appointed by Speaker Phelan.”

Although expected to run for House speaker again, Phelan hasn’t yet filed paperwork or announced his intentions, the Texas Tribune reported Friday.

Texas GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi recently blasted Phelan on Twitter for appointing Democrats to committees, which has long been common practice for House speakers.

After Phelan shared a Halloween post saying “the only thing scarier than spooky skeletons is a Democrat-run government,” Rinaldi shot back: “Agree. Nothing is scarier. Let’s work together to ensure not a single Democrat is elected or appointed to positions of power.”

Still, some Republican state lawmakers threw their weight behind Phelan after the news broke Friday.

State Rep. Lyle Larson, a Republican, came to Phelan’s defense on Twitter. “Partisan politics is a distraction from real governance,” he wrote. “Dade Phelan is a good man and will make the right choices if he is fortunate to get another term as Speaker.”

Plano State Rep. Jeff Leach similarly took to Twitter and called Phelan “the most conservative Speaker in the history of the House,” adding, “He is the right leader for this crucial time.”

Many conservatives even hailed the last legislative session as the most conservative in the state's history, celebrating a slew of laws that tightly restricted voting, targeted abortion and made it easier to access and carry guns, among other measures. 

Most conservative speaker in Texas’ history or not, Phelan might not be as far right as Tinderholt. In 2019, the Arlington Republican filed a bill proposing the death penalty for women who receive abortions.

Tinderholt joined the Texas House in 2015. In his statement Friday, he said, “It is clear Texas Republicans need new leadership who will fight for our values. I am running for Speaker of the Texas House to ensure we do the will of our voters and make Texas an even better state.”

Contacted by email, Phelan didn’t respond to the Observer’s request for comment.
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Patrick Strickland is the former news editor at the Dallas Observer. He's worked as a senior reporter at Al Jazeera English. His reporting has appeared in the New York Review of Books, The Guardian, Politico EU and The New Republic, among others.

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