As Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan fights to maintain his seat in the state Legislature, a Republican colleague already is mounting a bid to take his leadership position.

State Rep. Tom Oliverson of Cypress, who authored the House’s controversial law last year to ban gender transition care for transgender youth, announced his candidacy for speaker on Thursday. He cited a “colossal failure of leadership” in the House, criticizing Phelan’s decisions last year to appoint Democratic committee chairs and to quickly impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“The dysfunction in the Texas House during 2023 highlights the need for a change and the Capitol,” Oliverson said. “Two weeks ago, Republican voters across Texas sent a strong and unmistakable signal that Texas needs a new paradigm.”

Phelan was forced into a runoff with conservative businessman David Covey in the March 5 primary election, and the pair will face off again on May 28. It’s expected to be a close race, as former President Donald Trump, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas GOP Chair Matt Rinaldi all have endorsed Covey.

Patrick and Oliverson are neighbors and use the same political consultant. Oliverson said he has a “good relationship” with the lieutenant governor but hasn’t spoken to him specifically about his run for speaker. A spokesperson for Patrick did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Phelan’s race was one of several tight GOP primary contests across Texas this month, as voters opposed a handful of incumbent Republicans who declined to support private school vouchers, a top priority for Gov. Greg Abbott. Phelan largely stayed out of that debate during last year’s regular session and four ensuing special sessions, and he encouraged members to vote their conscience.

A record nine House members were taken out by hard-line conservative primary challengers on March 5; there are several more who face runoffs in two months.

“My focus remains on reelecting our Republican colleagues in runoffs and strengthening our majority in the Texas House,” Phelan said in a statement after Oliverson’s announcement. “As speaker, I’m focused on winning these races, getting our team over the finish line and ensuring we start the session united and ready to deliver another banner conservative session for Texans. That’s the job of the Texas speaker, and it’s where my focus is and will continue to be.”

But Oliverson said Phelan allowed the voucher bill to fail and “missed an opportunity to protect members.”

He also criticized Phelan’s handling of the Paxton impeachment, which he said was conducted in a “secretive way” that surprised members as the end of the regular session neared last May. Oliverson was the only Republican who did not vote on the impeachment, but he told the Dallas Morning News at the time that “nobody is above the law.” 

“The low opinion that people generally have of elected officials in many cases is well-deserved, and that’s why I take it so seriously that we need people of high moral and ethical standard serving in public office,” he said at the time.

Paxton was acquitted by the state Senate and reinstated as attorney general last September. One of his attorneys, Mitch Little, won his race for a North Texas House seat earlier this month and was present at Oliverson’s announcement Thursday in Austin.

Oliverson, an anesthesiologist, took office in 2017. He chairs the House insurance committee and also serves on the public health committee. 

Last year, Oliverson’s largest campaign donations came primarily from health care PACs, including those that represent the Texas Dental Association and the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists.

The political action committee for Elevance Health, previously known as Anthem, wrote Oliverson’s campaign the biggest check in 2023 of $15,000, according to finance records filed at the Texas Ethics Commission.

Oliverson also is a managing partner for the state’s largest anesthesia provider, U.S. Anesthesia Partners, which the Federal Trade Commission is suing for allegedly monopolizing the market and price gouging. The representative is not named in the complaint and previously has declined to comment on it. A hearing in the case is scheduled for next week.  

The company has called the claims misleading and said its commercial prices have remained essentially flat once adjusted for inflation.