"Clear and Present Danger"

Federal Judge Says Texas GOP Convention Can Happen In-Person after All

The announcement came Friday.

By Catherine Wendlandt July 8, 2020

Updated 5:17 p.m. July 17

The GOP convention can happen in-person, after all. On Friday, a federal judge of Southern District of Texas, Lynn Hughes, ruled the cancellation of the convention—which began virtually yesterday but was supposed to take place July 16–18 at the George R. Brown Convention Center—by Mayor Sylvester Turner violated the state Republican party's constitutional rights, according to a Houston Chronicle report. The party is allowed to hold the event at the convention center this weekend and next, according to the report. Now, it's up to the Texas GOP’s executive committee to decide whether the convention will take place in person. 

Updated 11 a.m. July 13 

The Texas GOP Convention will not happen in-person in Houston, the Texas Supreme Court rules. On Monday, the court ruled in favor of Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston First Corporation. Last Wednesday, citing rising COVID-19 cases in Houston, which has become a national hotspot, Turner announced the Republican convention, scheduled to take place July 16–18 at the George R. Brown Convention Center, had been cancelled. On Thursday, the Texas GOP filed a temporary restraining order, an appeal of which the Texas Supreme Court rejected this morning. Similarly, the court rejected a separate lawsuit over the cancellation filed by local Republican activist Steve Hotze and several other plaintiffs. 

Updated 2:30 p.m. July 9 

Members of The Texas GOP filed a lawsuit Thursday against Mayor Sylvester Turner for the cancellation of the state convention, scheduled for July 16–18 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. According to a report, both the City of Houston and Houston First Corporation are also named as defendants. According to a Chron report, the lawsuit claims the mayor was in the wrong for forcing Houston First to evoke a “force majeure” clause, which allows for a contract to be broken due to unforeseeable circumstances. Turner openly advocated for the June 2 George Floyd protest, attending and giving a speech at the event, the lawsuit claims, arguing that cancelling the state convention is a violation of their First Amendment rights.

Published 6:01 p.m. July 8

The Houston First Corporation, which operates the George R. Brown Convention Center, has cancelled the Texas GOP convention, which had been scheduled to take place in Houston July 16–18.

Mayor Sylvester Turner and other city officials, including Dr. David Persse, the health authority of the Houston Health Department, have put increasing pressure over the past few days on Houston First to break its contract with the state Republican party. On Wednesday, Houston First sent a letter officially cancelling the event.

The convention presents "a clear and present danger," according to a letter Persse sent to Houston First on Tuesday evening.  On Monday, Persse referred to gathering, which 6,000 people were expected to attend, as a super spreader event, which could be disastrous for the region. Harris County already attributes to almost 20 percent of Texas’s total COVID-19 case count. "We cannot have thousands of people gathering inside the George R. Brown," Persse said.

As mayor, Turner said he cannot ignore the warnings from Persse and other experts like Dr. Peter Hotez, and from Dr. Deborah Birx. On Wednesday, Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said that states that are experiencing surges should revert back to Phase 1 guidelines on gatherings.

"None of that can be ignored or disregarded," Turner said today.

Turner had been hesitant in the past to cancel the event for fear of politicizing the move—he would be a Democratic mayor cancelling a Republican event. He announced on July 6 that he was sending a letter to state GOP leaders to cancel the in-person state Republican convention. "I do not think it is wise or prudent to hold an in-person convention of 6,000 or more at this time," he said Monday.

He then once again urged GOP leaders to cancel the convention or move it online, especially as many of the delegates are in an older, at-risk age demographic. "I've not yet talked to a medical professional who has said this is a good idea at this time," Turner noted.

However, in recent days he's been increasingly vocal on the potential dangers for not just the conference attendees, but the hundreds of people who would be working the event. The lynch pin for him, he said on Wednesday afternoon, was the reminder that his own mother was a maid. Turner explained that he asked himself whether, if she were alive, he would be comfortable putting her in the position of having to go to work cleaning hotels and potentially being exposed to the virus. 

All other conventions and conferences that had been scheduled at George R. Brown this year have been cancelled or rescheduled to 2021. Today, Turner said he had continued to hope state GOP leaders would make the move to cancel the in-person event on their own accord.

However, despite the pressure from Turner and other public officials, and despite the fact that the speakers, including Gov. Greg Abbott, announced earlier this week that they would be addressing members of the Texas Republican Party virtually, GOP officials refused to cancel the convention.

On Monday Turner  had followed up his call for party representatives to cancel the event by announcing that if the convention were held, organizers and attendees would have to follow a laundry list of health safety protocols, such as the wearing of masks and multiple entrances and exits. If any of the protocols are violated, then the health department would shut the event down. 

GOP leaders pushed back against Turner’s announcement about the COVID-19 health precautions that would be required, saying the mayor did not understand the health measures they were already planning on implementing, and that their legal team was looking into the mayor’s demands, according to a Texas Tribune report.

By Wednesday afternoon, as Turner stated that the convention had, in fact, been called off,  it was clear that he was fed up. "I am still the mayor," he said.

Turner said he would exercise his right to protect Houstonians by cancelling the event, like when he cancelled RodeoHouston. "This convention is no greater or better" than the rodeo, he said. Now we'll all see how the party officials will respond. 

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