A ‘David and Goliath’ Race: Dave Covey on Run Against Phelan

David Covey
David Covey | Image by David Covey

The man who former President Donald Trump endorsed as an “America-First Conservative” is challenging Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan in the primary election in what he describes as a “David and Goliath” match-up, and he predicts “about the same result.”

David Covey of Orange County, whose election slogan is “a true conservative champion for Southeast Texas,” sat with The Dallas Express to discuss his quest to unseat the man who has dominated District 21 and the House in his role as speaker since 2021.

Dade Phelan has likely never been more vulnerable to a challenger from his own party after expending tremendous political capital in a failed effort to remove from office the state’s Attorney General, Ken Paxton, a favorite of the party and an adversary of the Biden administration.

And now he faces a man that Trump — as the unquestioned fulcrum of the GOP and likely nominee for the presidency — has specifically endorsed to beat Phelan, whom he has called a “liberal Democrat” and “RINO” (Republican in Name Only).

Covey told DX that his race with Phelan is of national significance because Trump has weighed in personally.

The endorsement has “brought to light a lot of the policies that the incumbent Dade Phelan has failed to pass or blocked from passing,” Covey said. “I think it helps lift the discussion of election integrity and border security, which are two things that are very important, not only to myself and Donald Trump but to the people in House District 21.”

Covey pointed to Phelan’s blocking of House Bill 20, which would have created a Border Security Unit, as an example of the speaker’s misguided priorities.

“This is something that the governor asked for specifically. It’s something that the people of Texas wanted to see. And Dade Phelan killed that bill. … The fact that he didn’t [pass border security] in the regular constitutionally allotted time to pass legislation says that border security was never a priority for Dade Phelan.”

Democrats and other opponents of the bill alleged that it would improperly allow non-law enforcement people to enforce border security.

“While blocking a significant bill that the governor had asked for to secure the border, he takes the last couple of days in the session to impeach one of the most conservative and leading attorney generals fighting against the Biden administration. So he had time to take on his personal political enemy but didn’t have time to do the business of Texans … to keep us safe and secure the border.”

Covey contrasted his road to public service, which he summarized as “serving the community in a bottom-up way,” with Phelan’s path to power.

Covey, who grew up in Orange County, explained that “I have come up as a volunteer in the grassroots” as a precinct chair, which allowed him to get “close to the people” before moving up to county chair.

“Dade Phelan, on the other hand, his family comes from money. But he’s also using his position to benefit his personal fortune.” Covey pointed to a recent report that Phelan profited over $2 million through a contract between his family real estate company, which he continues to head, and the Texas Health and Human Services Agency.

“So he’s using his position to make himself prosperous. To help his own family fortune. And he should be using the influence of the office to serve the people in this district.

“And that’s what people want. They want someone who is accessible and who is focused, not on building their own business, but who is focused on building the people and serving the people in this district.”

Covey also contrasted his position on property tax relief — he favors increasing the homestead exemption — with Phelan’s support for corporate property tax breaks.

“The homestead exemption helps everyday Texans,” Covey asserted.

Covey said Phelan opposed the Senate’s bigger homestead exemption because “whenever he has a choice, … Mr. Phelan always chooses what will benefit his family business before the families of Southeast Texas.”

“This a David and Goliath type of race. It’s pretty extraordinary that a normal guy like me that works a normal job can give arguably the second most powerful elected official in Texas a run for his money,” Covey said. “And so that speaks a lot to the people in this district who are ready for a change.”

He added, “That’s what they’ve got in me. I don’t have ties to the lobby or to the realtor’s associations and things that are going to shape my decisions. I’m thinking simply about the everyday family.”

In identifying social issues important to Texas families, Covey noted that Phelan was less than fully supportive of school choice, voting “present” on the bill. He also accused Phelan of killing a bill to rein in critical race theory in higher education.

“You start to get a pretty clear picture that Dade Phelan is working for his own interests, and those interests don’t line up with people in this district,” Covey said.

He also warned that Phelan has said he will continue to appoint Democrat chairs to important committees.

“A vote for Dade Phelan is a vote for Democrats to chair committees,” Covey said, adding, “He voluntarily cedes influence and power to Democrats so they can advance their agenda.”

The Dallas Express reached out to speaker Phelan with an interview request and for comments. DX will publish the response if and when one is received.

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