El Paso Democrat Joe Moody stripped of leadership position in Texas House after leaving state with Democrats

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, speaks with colleagues on the House floor during session at the state capitol on May 25, 2021.

El Paso Democrat Joe Moody was stripped of his position as speaker pro tem of the Texas House on Thursday in the first major backlash for a Democrat who left the chamber to prevent a vote on a GOP priority elections bill.

House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, announced the removal of Moody as speaker pro tem in a memo Thursday morning before the House was set to return Thursday. He gave no statement but said the removal was effective immediately.

"The most important titles in my life will never change: Dad, Husband, El Pasoan," Moody said in a statement. "Nothing political has ever even cracked the top three, so nothing has changed about who I am or what my values are."

Moody has served as speaker pro tem for two sessions under two speakers. He is one Phelan’s top allies in the Democratic party, and the two have worked together to push bills aimed at making fixes to the state’s criminal justice system.

The speaker pro tem performs the duties of the speaker in their absence. Moody’s appointment to the position was seen as an olive branch by Republicans and raised the El Paso Democrat’s profile and stature in the chamber.

Rep. Chris Turner, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, blasted Phelan's decision in a statement on social media.

"The smartest decision Dade Phelan has made as speaker was to appoint Joe Moody Speaker Pro Tem," he said. "Joe works tirelessly to help lead the House and is respected by [Democrat] & [Republican] members. That's why the Speaker's decision to remove Joe is so short-sighted and so dumb."

Turner also issued another joint statement with Democratic caucus leaders Rafael Anchía of Dallas, Garnet Coleman of Houston and Nicole Collier of Fort Worth.

“We know first hand that Speaker Pro Tem Joe Moody has done more than any other member on the House Floor to protect our Chamber and the institution of the Texas House. It’s unfortunate that Speaker Phelan has been unable to do the same," the statement read.

It also issued a warning shot to Phelan about his next speaker race.

"“We are a coequal branch of government. When Governor Abbott decided to defund the whole legislature, Speaker Phelan was silent. There needs to be 76 members who decide who our next Speaker is, and more than 60 are not there.”

At least 51 House Democrats left the state Monday to break quorum and bring to a halt deliberations on an elections bill they say would restrict voting rights. House Republicans have railed against Democrats, accusing them of walking out on their responsibilities to push their political agenda.

Earlier this week, House Republicans sought to coerce Democrats back to the chamber, with some asking whether lawmakers could be stripped of committee leadership positions for breaking quorum.

Statewide leaders like Gov. Greg Abbott and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller endorsed such actions, but Phelan said the lawmakers could not be stripped of committee leadership positions under House rules. The speaker pro tem is a different position from committee leadership roles, and Phelan cited the House rules in his decision to remove Moody.

House Republicans continued filing bills aimed at stripping lawmakers of their pay for breaking quorum. Such bills are not on the special session agenda and could only be taken up by the chambers if Abbott added them to the agenda and a quorum returned.

Separately, Phelan continued to pressure Democrats who broke quorum to return their $221 per diem and blamed them for his chamber's inability to approve an additional check for retired Texas teachers.

"While stalling a 13th check for retired teachers, an overwhelming majority of Texas House Democrats remain silent on whether they will return their legislative per diem to the State Treasury," he said in a statement. "Texas taxpayers demand better, and I demand that Democrats return their legislative per diem and get back to Texas to pass legislation that would provide a 13th check for retired teachers, protect our foster kids, and provide relief from high property taxes."

Cassandra Pollock contributed to this report.

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