State Rep. Tom Oliverson, a Houston-area Republican and one of Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan’s top committee chairmen, announced Wednesday that he’ll challenge Phelan, the lower chamber’s two-term incumbent leader, over complaints that the House has become “dysfunctional” after decades of bipartisan rule.

“The Texas House is a collegial body, but there is a difference between collegiality and capitulation,” Oliverson said during a news conference in the same venue that a statewide conservative think tank was holding its annual conference. “The majority must not be held captive by the will of the minority.”

The announcement not only triggered what might shape up to be a divisive intraparty war among Republicans, but also signaled that the days of members of the minority party having a say in House leadership decisions might be coming to an end.

Oliverson, a physician who has served in the House since 2017, said he envisions a chamber that elects its speaker after the majority party agrees on a candidate and one where no members of the minority party are awarded committee chairmanships where they can bottle up some legislation that would otherwise breeze to passage on the full floor.

He would also seek to remove some of the procedural guardrails that slow the pace of legislative action in the early days of the 140-day regular legislative session, held every other year with the next one convening in January.

Several conservative activists, who were attending the second day of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s three-day conference at the AT&T Conference Center on the University of Texas campus, attended Oliverson’s announcement and applauded him for his run for the House’s top spot.

“It sounded good to me,” said Republican state Sen. Bob Hall, who represents a conservative district east and south of Dallas and who as a senator will play no formal role in selecting a House speaker. “It’s hard with transparency and honesty.”

Jonathan Saenz, who leads conservative advocacy group Texas Values, said the defeat of several GOP House members in the March 6 primaries whose opponents were endorsed by Gov. Greg Abbott and, in some cases, by former President Donald Trump, was the likely catalyst for a challenge to the sitting Republican speaker.

Indeed, Phelan, who was twice elected as the House’s leader with substantial backing from Democratic members, was forced into a runoff by GOP voters in his Beaumont-centered district, and his fate will be decided in a runoff May 28. Trump has endorsed challenger and longtime Republican activist David Covey in the race.

“I think it’s an indication that a lot of (Republican House) members are looking at what voters want,” said Saenz, whose organization has been in the vanguard on a range of legislation that’s important to social conservatives, including a recently passed ban on certain gender-affirming care for minors.

In a statement, Phelan — who during the 2023 legislative session appointed Oliverson to chair the House Insurance Committee and to serve as a member on the Public Health Committee and the Select Committee on Health Care Reform — made no mention of the announcement by the 51-year-old Oliverson.

“My focus remains on reelecting our Republican colleagues in runoffs and strengthening our majority in the Texas House,” Phelan’s statement said. “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.”

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, the leader of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, was combative in his written response to Oliverson’s announcement.

“In the first 60 seconds of his remarks, Rep. Oliverson asserted that his two top priorities are passing private school voucher scams and dissolving bipartisan leadership in the Texas House, ending a House tradition that goes back to Sam Houston in the 8th Legislative Session — and Tom Oliverson is no Sam Houston,” said Fischer, who represents a portion of San Antonio.

In a statement, Covey said Oliverson’s candidacy is an ominous sign for Phelan’s chances in the runoff.

“Dade Phelan claims they should vote for him because of his power as the Speaker, but the reality is — he will not return as Speaker of the House,” Covey said.