Houston mayor cancels Texas GOP in-person convention

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(Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As the scuffle bubbles over between the Republican Party of Texas and Houston city leaders who object to the GOP hosting its convention in-person, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the event was to be cancelled.

Turner made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, following a back-and-forth about whether to proceed with the event, which was expected to draw approximately 6,000 attendees next week.

“Today I instructed the Houston First Corporation to exercise its right contractually in cancelling the State’s Republican Convention that was set to take place next week at GRB,” Turner tweeted Wednesday.

“The public health concern for our first responders, convention workers, and those who would have attended weighed heavily in our decision making,” Turner wrote, stating that Houston “is in the midst of a global health crisis and we are doing everything in our power” to combat COVID-19.

RPT chairman James Dickey could not immediately be reached for comment, but said earlier in the week in the party had “no plans to cancel our in-person convention.”

“We will pursue all legal options possible against the city of Houston and Houston First” in light of the “disruption,” Dickey said in a Facebook Live video Wednesday night.

“We have to consult with our legal team,” Dickey said Wednesday, acknowledging that the executive committee has a contigency plan to go entirely online for next week’s convention.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon critical of Turner prior to the announcement, Dickey wrote: “After allowing tens of thousands of protestors to peaceably assemble in the same city, in the same area, without any of the safety precautions and measures we have taken, he is seeking to deny a political Party’s critical electoral function that should be equally protected under the constitution.”

In a Wednesday tweet, Turner addressed the comparison between protestors gathering outdoors and the indoor convention.

“It is one thing to be talking about an indoor convention where people are in close proximity with each other for a substantial amount of time rather than walking outside in a protest,” the Mayor, a Democrat, tweeted. “When people are marching and protesting, no one is making lunch/dinner, cleaning up behind them.”

Houston, one of the top-five most populous cities in the nation, sits in Harris County. Harris County has the most COVID-19 cases in the state at 23,996 active cases as of Tuesday afternoon, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. More than 400 people with the coronavirus have died in the county and approximately 2,700 lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients are in Houston-area hospitals.

According to the RPT on Wednesday afternoon, the party instituted numerous precautions for next week’s planned convention including:

  • thermal scanning of each attendee when they enter the convention center,
  • limited entryways,
  • revised floor plans for the caucuses and general sessions to accommodate social distancing,
  • established deep cleanings after every meeting,
  • provided contactless registration,
  • established one-way traffic in our exhibit hall,
  • elevated curtain height to create further separation at exhibit booths,
  • provided contactless hand sanitizer, and
  • obtained masks for attendees use.

The Texas Democratic Party, which switched to a virtual convention format for its June convention in light of the pandemic, commended Turner’s move, calling the planned in-person convention on the other side of the aisle “reckless.”

“Republicans are lucky that Democratic and city leaders were willing to do the right thing, cancel this convention, and save them from themselves,” TDP chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement Wednesday evening.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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