Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday that state House Speaker Dade Phelan should resign, accusing him of presiding over his chamber “in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication.” Paxton also asked the House General Investigating Committee to probe Phelan, a fellow Republican.
Paxton’s call for Phelan’s resignation came days after a video clip went viral that showed Phelan slurring his words while overseeing House floor proceedings Friday night. Phelan’s office has declined to comment on the incident.
“After much consideration, it is with profound disappointment that I call on Speaker Dade Phelan to resign at the end of this legislation session,” Paxton said in a statement posted on Twitter. “His conduct has negatively impacted the legislative process and constitutes a failure to live up to his duty to the public.”
Minutes later, Paxton also posted to Twitter a screenshot of a letter he sent the chair of the General Investigating Committee, Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, asking him to open an “investigation into Speaker Phelan for violation of House rules, state law, and for conduct unbecoming his position.” The General Investigating Committee was meeting Tuesday afternoon but does not publicly comment on any pending investigations.
Phelan’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Paxton’s remarks.
Texas Republicans regularly fight among themselves, but Paxton’s comments Tuesday were striking even by that standard.
The 44-second video clip of Phelan began circulating on social media over the weekend. It was pushed by Phelan’s intraparty critics, including former state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. It was also the subject of anonymous text messages deriding Phelan as “Drunk Dade.”
Phelan’s defenders noted he seemed to speak normally before and after the clip. They also noted that the people pushing the video, like Stickland, may be out for revenge after the House voted to expel one of their political allies, ex-state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City.
The House ousted Slaton after an investigation by the General Investigating Committee found he engaged in sexual misconduct with a 19-year-old aide.
Paxton has battled his own ethical troubles for years. Months after taking office in 2015, he was indicted for securities fraud linked to private business deals in 2011. More recently, he came under FBI investigation after top deputies accused him of abusing his office to help a wealthy donor. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
In February, Paxton reached a $3.3 million settlement with four former deputies who had filed a whistleblower lawsuit against his agency, but lawmakers in both chambers have balked at authorizing taxpayer dollars to pay for it. Phelan himself has said he personally opposes it.
In his statement calling for Phelan’s resignation, Paxton also criticized the House for failing to “pass critical conservative priorities including protecting the integrity of our elections and preventing Chinese spies from controlling Texas land.” The regular legislative session is winding down — the last day is Monday — and those were among the proposals that fell victim to a bill-killing deadline Saturday in the House.
Paxton shares political ties with Slaton, the ousted lawmaker. A top campaign contributor to both has been Defend Texas Liberty PAC, the Stickland-run group that is mostly financed by conservative megadonors Tim Dunn and the Wilks family.