Texans turned out in record numbers for the 2020 elections, but the “blue wave” that some had predicted failed to materialize. Once the results were in, drama began to erupt over the selection of a new House speaker.

Little change in partisan makeup

Democrats gained back one seat in the Texas Senate, as anticipated. The partisan breakdown of that chamber now is 18-13 in favor of Republicans, with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick retaining a tight hold on Senate policies and procedures.

In the House, some observers estimated that as many as 15 seats could flip from Republican to Democrat, handing Democrats a majority for the first time since 2001. But in the end, only two incumbents (one Republican, one Democrat) were defeated, no open seats flipped, and the partisan makeup of the House remains 83-67 in favor of Republicans. (NOTE: Election results are not yet considered official, and some races were close enough that recounts may be possible.) Texas election results for federal, state and district races can be found on the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

Speaker’s race

Capitol observers have been intrigued by a whirlwind of activity surrounding the upcoming selection of the House speaker by members of the Texas House. Several Democrats and Republicans had filed for the office shortly before Election Day, but with Republicans retaining control of the House, a Republican speaker is virtually guaranteed.

Republican Reps. Dade Phelan, Trent Ashby, Geanie Morrison and Chris Paddie had announced their intent to run, but this week, Morrison endorsed Ashby and Paddie endorsed Phelan, positioning the two East Texans as frontrunners.

On Wednesday, Phelan held a news conference to announce that he had obtained 83 signatures of both Republican and Democratic House members supporting him (76 are needed to elect). However, Ashby did not concede the race, and at least one of his supporters (House Public Education Chair Dan Huberty) maintained that the race was not over. But later that day, Ashby announced his support for Morrison (who, as noted, had previously indicated her support for Ashby), leaving Morrison and Phelan as the primary candidates.

Then on Thursday, 15 more Democrats endorsed Phelan, which would appear to ensure his election. The actual election of the speaker takes place on the first day of the legislative session, which begins Jan. 12, 2021. UPDATE: Later Thursday, Rep. Morrison withdrew her candidacy, stating, "My team and I are uniting the Republican Caucus with our support of Dade Phelan." 

Phelan is heading into his fourth term in the House representing portions of Beaumont. He is currently chair of the powerful State Affairs Committee.  

While the speaker’s race may seem like insider baseball, the leader of the House is one of the most powerful positions in state government, and the speaker can affect education policy directly through his or her appointment of committee chairs and members, and by exerting a fair amount of control over what bills are considered on the House floor. No less important is the speaker’s ability to firmly represent the House position in negotiations with the Senate on controversial or important legislation. 

State Board of Education

Eight of the 15 State Board of Education seats were up for election this year. The board currently comprises 10 Republicans and five Democrats. One open Republican seat (previously held by Ken Mercer, who did not run for re-election) was won by Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau, moving the board to a 9-6 Republican majority. (Again, note that at this time, election results are not yet official.)