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Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton went after their own in the Texas House. It worked.

The House Chamber for the Texas State House of Representatives inside the Texas State Capitol at the start of the 2021 Special Legislative Session in Austin, TX on July 8, 2021. Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
The House Chamber for the Texas State House of Representatives inside the Texas State Capitol at the start of the 2021 Special Legislative Session in Austin, TX on July 8, 2021. Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

The Texas House is shaping up to have a whole lot of new faces next year.

Nine Republican incumbents lost their seats and eight more were pushed into runoffs on Tuesday. At least 11 others had already chosen not to run for re-election.

This means that nearly one in five state representatives could be newbies when the Texas Legislature meets next in January. Adding to the chaos: the Republican speaker of the Texas House is fighting to keep his seat, which, if lost, could mean a nasty fight over who should lead the body.

What led to the bloodbath? The short answer: Republican-on-Republican violence.

For years, animosity has been quietly simmering inside Republican ranks over how to approach issues like public education, border security and election integrity. It boiled over last session, when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a fellow Republican who leads the Senate, and Speaker Dade Phelan repeatedly and publicly clashed over policymaking.

But incumbents have tended to keep their seats thanks to a largely unspoken rule that state leaders would not openly back GOP challengers.

This year, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton broke with that precedent in a new and unprecedented way. Instead of staying out of the fight, they went after their own — and they went big.

Abbott targeted Republican House members who voted against his school voucher program last session, spending millions and stumping for their GOP primary challengers. His effort paid off. Five incumbents he challenged over vouchers lost their primary bids, and four more were pushed into runoffs.

Paxton, meanwhile, wanted to oust Republican lawmakers who voted to impeach him.

Seven of the 60 incumbents who voted for Paxton’s impeachment lost their primary bids to challengers backed by Abbott or Paxton, and eight more were pushed into runoffs. The majority who ran for re-election kept their seats.

Abbott and Paxton targeted some of the same incumbents. But they disagreed on who should win in 24 races. Among those, Abbott had the better batting average: 17 of his picks won outright.

Paxton’s picks beat Abbott’s in two races: Matt Morgan beat Rep. Jacey Jetton in District 26 and Mitch Little beat Rep. Kronda Thimesch in District 65. Both Jetton and Little had a clear link to impeachment: Jetton helped prosecute Paxton in his trial and Little defended him.

The four remaining races are headed to runoffs.

Paxton claimed one other major win.

House Speaker Dade Phelan, who led his impeachment, was one of the eight incumbents forced into a May runoff. His challenger, oil and gas consultant David Covey, was also backed by former President Donald Trump.

Trump endorsed in 17 House races. His picks won in 11 and three, including Covey, are in runoffs.

Three of his picks lost. One failed in his challenge to Dallas Rep. Morgan Meyer, another Paxton impeachment prosecutor, and two unsuccessfully challenged Drew Darby of San Angelo and Stan Lambert of Abilene, rural incumbents who were also opposed by Abbott and Paxton.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Patrick barely concealed his glee at the carnage in the House. He said Phelan “failed” as speaker and that the new lawmakers “will not likely repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.”

“It was a great night for the conservative majority in Texas,” Patrick said.

Copyright 2024 KUT News. To see more, visit KUT News.

Lauren McGaughy