Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Wednesday he is canceling the Republican Party of Texas’ in-person convention — scheduled for a city-owned convention center — as coronavirus cases continue to surge.
“The public health concern for our first responders, convention workers, and those who would have attended weighed heavily in our decision making,” Turner said.
The decision comes after the Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey had rebuffed a request from Turner that the party cancel plans for its in-person convention July 16-18 — which the city’s local health authority warned could be a “super spreader of the virus” — and go with a virtual event instead.
Dickey had said that the party was looking forward to a “safe and productive convention next week” in Houston.
But during a virtual City Council meeting Wednesday, Turner said he has directed the city’s legal department to work with the Houston First Corporation, which operates the George R. Brown Convention Center, to review the contract with the state party, with an eye to cancellation.
The cancellation of the event had become a political hot potato.
Turner, a Democrat, had avoided prohibiting Republicans from holding their live convention, and in an evening news appearance Monday in Dallas, Gov. Greg Abbott, Republican, indicated that he wouldn’t cancel it, either.
The party’s executive committee had discussed the consequences and safety measures against the business that needs to take place — much of it in person — in an event that is “more than just people getting together,” Abbott said in a live interview on KDFW.
After three hours of debate Thursday night, the state’s Republican Executive Committee voted 40-20 to stick with a live convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center, even amid dramatic spikes in the spread of the coronavirus in Texas and Houston’s emergence as a national COVID-19 hot spot.
The most urgent business of the convention is electing delegates to the Republican National Convention and electors to the Electoral College, but that could be done at a virtual convention. The Republican Executive Committee met for another four-plus hours Sunday night to hammer out the rules it will need to follow if a virtual convention is required at the last minute.
On Monday, taking to Twitter, Turner said that “our number one priority is the safety and well-being of the employees who are working in our convention center, hotels, and Houstonians.”
“Please remember that many who may come to the Texas GOP convention will be traveling in from around the state,” he tweeted.
Dickey replied in a statement that Texas Republicans were on it.
“The Republican Party of Texas has been in extensive conversations with Houston First — the managers of the George R. Brown Convention Center. We have been proactive in implementing safety measures such as thermal scans upon entry each day for each attendee, limited entryways, expanded floor plans to accommodate social distancing, hand sanitizer stations throughout, and available masks for all attendees. With these precautions currently in place, the Republican Party of Texas intends to proceed with an in-person Convention next week in Houston,” he wrote.
“In addition to nominating the individuals who will represent the party in the Electoral College, a state convention of a political party is a fundamental exercise of the freedom to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress. That need to assemble is important, and we are taking every precaution to ensure it is done safely.
“Mayor Turner must not have had the information about the measures being voluntarily implemented,” Dickey said.
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