The largest indoor event since the coronavirus pandemic struck the State of Texas is about to happen in Houston. The state convention for the Republican Party of Texas will be held July 16 – 18. About 6,000 people are expected to attend.
Originally, face masks were not going to be required, which set off the Texas Medical Association (TMA), a sponsor of the convention. (They also sponsor the Democrat convention, which this year was held virtually.) The TMA first said they would still sponsor the GOP convention but that has since changed, though face masks and social distancing efforts will now be in place. The TMA pulled its sponsorship after the state party decided to move forward with the convention, ignoring the medical organization’s plea to cancel the event.
The state GOP has safety precautions in place, according to the party’s leadership. The Republican Party leaders insist that the convention has to be in-person because a virtual convention isn’t as productive or effective as a standard, in-person convention. Thus, the battle between Republican Party officials and Houston elected officials, including the mayor, continues.
Mayor Turner formally requested that party Chairman James Dickey cancel the convention. Dickey rejected the request on Tuesday.
James Dickey, chairman of the Texas GOP, in a statement said the party has been “proactive in implementing safety measures” and had “extensive conversations” with Houston First, the public nonprofit that serves as the city’s convention arm and operates the George R. Brown Convention Center. The convention is set to take place there from July 16 to 18.
“With these precautions currently in place, the Republican Party of Texas intends to proceed with an in-person convention next week in Houston,” Dickey said.
It all boils down to a power struggle between a state political party versus elected officials, in particular, Mayor Sylvester and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. Both of them have been enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame on network and cable station interviews in recent days, as the coronavirus pandemic spikes in Houston.
Turner said he was “incredulous” that the GOP is moving ahead with the event amid a local escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic. He reiterated that health department officials would shut it down if they find people are not following city COVID-19 guidelines.
“It is the only convention or conference that has elected to proceed,” Turner said. “All of the other conferences and conventions have chosen to cancel or reschedule.”
In contrast, Republicans are “incredulous” that the Houston mayor was perfectly fine with the memorials, protests, and the like after the death of George Floyd, a Houston native. Social distancing was not adhered to during any of that, all producing very large crowds, substantially more than 6,000 people.
The only two elected officials with the power to shut down the convention are Governor Abbott and Mayor Turner. Turner is clearly looking for an excuse to do so, while Governor Abbott straddles the fence. There is no indication, at this time, that Abbott will move in and shut it down. Turner denies he wants to cancel the convention.
At the city level, Turner issued an executive order in June that required the cancellation of all events of more than 50 people in city-owned buildings, including ones involving a third party such as the Texas GOP.
The mayor, who is a Democrat, removed that provision from his order last week and has yet to explain why he did so, though he has said he does not want to cancel the convention, fearing that doing so would politicize the situation. He sent the GOP a list of conditions Monday it would need to follow during the convention, including denying entry to anyone who has tested positive for COVID or come in contact with a COVID patient between July 2 and July 15.
The party also must require convention guests to wear masks and provide touchless hand sanitizing stations throughout the convention center, Turner said.
A public health authority is working with Mayor Turner and will advise him to shut it down if violations are found during the event. An assistant county attorney is looking into the situation. He is discussing it with the Harris County Judge Hidalgo’s office, looking into her authority limitations concerning the convention. Suddenly, Hidalgo is not publicly offering up her hot takes on the convention. She seems to be letting the mayor take the lead.
As Chairman Dickey points out, the “demands” from the mayor are already agreed upon by the state party to be in place.
“Mayor Turner must not have had the information about the measures being voluntarily implemented,” Dickey said. “The Republican Party, delegates, and guests are looking forward to a safe and productive Convention next week.”
A decision has been made for all elected officials to speak via video to the convention instead of in-person speeches. This is supposed to allow the convention-goers to conduct their business quickly and efficiently.
The Republican Party of Texas is moving forward with its controversial in-person convention during the coronavirus pandemic — but elected officials including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will be giving their scheduled speeches virtually.
“All the elected officials are switching from a live, in-person speech to videos,” Kyle Whatley, the party’s executive director, said during a town hall livestreamed Tuesday night. “They’re doing that for us in order to focus all the attention on the business of the meeting and to get everybody in and out of here as quickly and as safely as possible.”
So, convention-goers will be at risk of coronavirus exposure but the elected officials will be away from the convention, in the comfort of their own surroundings, not taking the health risk. How convenient. I remain of the same opinion that I’ve had from the beginning of this whole kerfuffle – an in-person convention is not a good idea. It is an unnecessary health risk to elderly delegates and attendees and it may spread the virus to other people once the attendees return home. Large gatherings, for whatever reason, are just not a good idea at this time during the pandemic.
The Texas Craft Brewers Guild has dropped its support of the GOP state convention, citing safety concerns.
Update: The mayor pulled the trigger. The state GOP convention has been canceled. Mayor Turner had Houston First, the public nonprofit that serves the city’s convention center deliver the news. The Texas GOP says it is prepared for legal action.
Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on Wednesday that the city has canceled the Texas Republican Party’s in-person state convention in downtown Houston next week.
Houston First, the public nonprofit that serves as the city’s convention arm, sent a letter to the party’s executive committee notifying it that the convention has been canceled.
The letter triggers a part of the contract called a “force majeure” clause, which allows one side to cancel for an occurrence out of its control. The definition included “epidemics in the City of Houston,” according to the Houston First letter.
The letter states the state convention poses a “clear and present danger to the health and well-being of convention attendees, workers, local hotel and restaurant owners and Houstonians”.