Several Texas lawmakers placed money in a charity box brought to the House of Representatives in 2019 by Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, at podium. (Photo courtesy of Chabad of El Paso)

El Paso’s highest-ranking state lawmaker was stripped of his leadership position in the Texas House Thursday, three days after he left Texas for Washington, D.C. in an effort to block the Texas Legislature from passing more restrictive voting bills.

Joe Moody

House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, relieved state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, of his position as speaker pro tem of the Texas House Thursday.

Moody became the first El Pasoan appointed as Texas House speaker pro tem when he served in that role in the 2019 legislative session under former House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton. Phelan appointed him to the role for the most recent regular session, which ended May 31.

“The most important titles in my life will never change: Dad, Husband, El Pasoan. Nothing political has ever even cracked the top three, so nothing has changed about who I am or what my values are,” Moody tweeted in reaction to the news that he had been stripped of his position.

Later, in a statement Moody added: “I followed my conscience knowing that doing the right thing could cost me, but not fighting would’ve cost even more: the civil rights of Texans. The job I swore an oath to do is to defend our Constitution, so I’d make that trade any day. Titles come and go, but my commitment to the people of El Paso and this state will always remain.”

Days earlier, Phelan informed his Republican colleagues that House rules prevented them from removing their Democratic colleagues from their House committee positions as punishment for breaking quorum. But Moody served at the discretion of the speaker. 

At least 55 House Democrats left for Washington, D.C., Monday so the Texas House wouldn’t have the minimum number of members needed to conduct business and pass legislation. All five El Paso-area state representatives are in D.C., along with state Sen. César Blanco, D-El Paso.

Democrats have said they will remain outside the state through the duration of the special session, which ends Aug. 6. Though a special session can last 30 days, Gov. Greg Abbott can call as many as he chooses, which he hinted he’ll do if Democrats continue to hold out. 

Though the Texas Senate can still vote on legislation during this time, a bill must be approved by both legislative chambers to make it to the governor’s desk and be signed into law.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed the elections bill Democrats are attempting to prevent from becoming law.

Abbott made passing legislation “strengthening the integrity” of Texas elections one of his 11 priorities for the special session. The other priorities include additional restictions on abortions, prohibitions on transgender athletes in sports, social media reform and border security.

Moody, a graduate of Cathedral High School, has served in the Texas House since 2009 after he defeated Republican Dee Margo in the 2008 election. Margo, a former El Paso mayor, took the seat after the 2010 rematch but was ousted two years later when Moody edged him again.

Molly Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014.