El Paso Democrat Joe Moody stripped of leadership position after leaving state with colleagues

ByJames Barragãn, The Texas Tribune KTRK logo
Thursday, July 15, 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.

The video above is from previous reporting on the Texas special legislative session.

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 on Thursday. He gave no statement but said the removal was effective immediately.

RELATED: Texas House Republicans vote to track down absent Democrats and arrest them

"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 different 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.

SEE ALSO: What it means to break quorum in Texas House of Representatives

The speaker pro tem performs the duties of the speaker in his 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.

At least 51 House Democrats left the state on 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 had 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.

This story comes from our ABC13 partners at The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans - and engages with them - about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.