County Judge to RNC: No convention in Dallas despite governor's invitation

County Judge to RNC: No convention in Dallas despite governor's invitation

It isn’t even clear if Dallas is on the RNC’s shortlist of convention sites now that North Carolina has lost it but Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins wants to make his opinion known – he’s a firm no on the city hosting it. Jenkins cites his concern for the potential of a large gathering spreading the coronavirus.


Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, also a Democrat, has not extended an invitation to the RNC to host the convention in that city, though the city bid on hosting the 2016 convention. But even if he did, Jenkins says he’s a hard no:

“I haven’t had any conversations with anyone planning the convention,” he said in response to a question from The Dallas Morning News. “What I hope they will do is look at the guidelines. Anyone can go to, and you can look at what our local doctors are saying. What they’re saying is that we’re now at a red color.”

The four-day convention is scheduled to start Aug. 24.

Red, the highest level of public health danger under Dallas County’s system, calls for a “stay home, stay safe” response.

Among the recommendations: “Eliminate non-essential travel and group settings. For essential travel, practice strict physical distancing, wear facial coverings. … Avoid all group settings or crowded areas at hotels or other facilities. Do not eat in shared dining areas. Avoid travel if over 65 or in a high-risk group.”

A convention that big is unwise, Jenkins said, “even if we get to an orange or yellow color, which, frankly, given the spike and deaths and things we’re seeing, is unlikely to happen by the time of the convention, unfortunately.”

The more I read about Jenkins the more I think he is very much like Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. His authoritarian approach to shutting down Dallas County has brought criticism from other Democrats, as well as Republicans in elected office. Like Hidalgo, Jenkins continues to go beyond the orders put into place by Governor Abbott to restrict the pursuit of livelihoods and interactions between the general public.


I give Jenkins this – he is consistent. He doesn’t approve of large outdoor gatherings, either, though I didn’t see any public objections to the massive protests in Dallas, a regular event since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. If he has called for protests to not go forward or tried to break them up, I’ve missed it. He now tells the public to go get tested if they attended any of the marches. And, he tells everyone to wear a mask and try to social distance, even outdoors.

Remember, a County Judge in Texas isn’t necessarily a real judge. There is no requirement for a County Judge to have a law degree or even a law school education. The County Judge is that county’s CEO. In the case of Jenkins, he ran afoul of county commissioners by issuing executive orders without seeking approval from the commissioners first. They moved to restrict his emergency powers in April, voted to require Jenkins to seek their approval before extending mandatory stay-at-home policies any further, and voted to require him to remove a mandatory penalty of $1,000 for not wearing a face mask in public. As I mentioned, he sounds very much like Harris County Judge Hidalgo, also a Democrat with a strong authoritarian streak.

Governor Abbott says that Texas is open for business and he, along with the Republican Party of Texas, would like to see the RNC bring the convention to Texas. He has spoken with Trump about it.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, told Tyler TV station KETK on Thursday that he would welcome the convention to Texas.

“I talked to the president about it last Friday,” he said. “They obviously want to come to a state that is open and Texas is as open as any state in America, so Texas obviously provides a great opportunity for a convention like that.”


Other Democrats are going on the record – the RNC is not welcome at this time. A congresswoman cites the pandemic, along with outstanding debts from the Trump campaign for event security.

“A large gathering during a public health pandemic is not what our community needs right now,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Dallas Democrat and nurse whose congressional district includes the American Airlines Center — the venue at the heart of the 2016 bid — and the city-run convention center next to City Hall, where President Ronald Reagan was nominated for a second term in 1984.

In April, the Center for Public Integrity issued a report tallying $1.82 million that the Trump campaign still owes to 14 cities for security at campaign events, including $569,000 in unpaid bills from a February 2019 rally in El Paso.

“I do not want to see our city be among those not reimbursed in a timely and thorough manner,” the congresswoman said.

One Dallas city councilman has another approach to hosting the convention. He says he’ll be happy for the city to take the RNC’s money and he’ll welcome the president with protests.

Councilman Adam Bazaldua, who represents South Dallas and part of East Dallas, said he would “gladly take the money” because of the city’s sales tax revenue shortfall — and would welcome Trump with protests.

“If there’s another chance to protest to the bunch of voices who need to hear it, need to wake up, for that reason alone, I’m not going to stand in the way,” he said.

I’m assuming social distancing and face masks will be required for that protest, right?


The RNC originally listed Dallas along with Orlando and Jacksonville, Fla.; Phoenix; and Nashville, Tenn. as potential locations for the 2020 convention. The convention committee toured Nashville last week though the city leaders stressed that they can not offer any funds towards hosting the event. If I had to guess, I’d say Florida will get the convention if it goes forward as a traditional event. That state has led the way in a common-sense approach to mitigating the coronavirus and has been as business-friendly as the circumstances have allowed. Plus, it would certainly be good for the Trump campaign to bring a large, multi day-long event to such an important state on the electoral map.

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