UPDATE: Republican Party Of Texas Sues City Of Houston And Mayor Over Cancellation Of In-Person Convention Due To Coronavirus

HOUSTON (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – Officials in Houston on Wednesday canceled the Texas Republican Party’s in-person convention, saying the spread of the coronavirus made it impossible to hold the event as scheduled.

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Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city’s lawyers exercised provisions in the contract that the Texas GOP signed to rent the downtown convention center for a three-day event to have started July 16, with committee meetings earlier in the week.

“The public health concerns outweighed anything else,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

The fight over whether thousands of Republican supporters will converge on downtown Houston as the city’s hospitals are overwhelmed is a snapshot of the broader political tensions that have underscored Texas’ handling of the pandemic.

Turner, a Democrat, previously resisted calls to cancel the convention. Gov. Greg Abbott, the state’s top Republican, had publicly deferred to state party leaders who last week voted by a 2-to-1 margin to go forward with an in-person event. Abbott had been noncommittal about whether he would attend the convention.

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Last week, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he was through listening to the nation’s top infectious disease expert, saying Dr. Anthony Fauci “doesn’t know what he’s talking about” over comments that some states reopened too fast.

State Republican chair James Dickey said earlier Wednesday that the party was weighing its legal options as Turner indicated the city would move to cancel the gathering.

The Texas Medical Center, a consortium of Houston hospitals, has moved into surge capacity for its intensive-care beds. Texas reported more than 10,000 new confirmed cases statewide for the first time on Tuesday. The Texas Medical Association had already withdrawn as a convention sponsor and urged organizers to cancel.

Abbott in recent weeks has moved to close bars again, restrict the size of outdoor gatherings, and institute a broad mandate requiring people to wear masks in public.

Dickey said in his statement Wednesday that organizers had planned to institute daily temperature scans, provide masks, and install hand sanitizer stations.

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Echoing the criticism among some conservatives to the government’s coronavirus response, Dickey argued attendees at any convention would have more protection than the tens of thousands of protesters who gathered in downtown Houston following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knew into Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes.

Turner “does not want Houston to get back to work,” Dickey said. “He is not able to move forward and rise to these new challenges.”

The national Republican Party is also pushing to have an in-person convention this year, moving the event from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida, after North Carolina officials would not provide guarantees sought by President Donald Trump. But in recent days, a growing number of Republican senators said they would skip the convention.

Texas Democrats held an online convention in June, and national Democrats plan to hold an almost entirely virtual convention in August.

Dickey released the following statement on the in-person event cancellation Wednesday evening:

“Today, just five days before the beginning of the Republican Party of Texas State Convention, Houston First Corporation, at the behest of Mayor Sylvester Turner and the City of Houston, terminated our binding contract to host the 2020 State Convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

“This cancellation is not about the health and safety of Houstonians or the delegates and guests to our Convention. We made every effort to conduct our convention in a safe manner, working cooperatively with the Convention Center, going well beyond the requirements of the Center’s health safety plan. If Mayor Turner’s motivations were pure, he could have cancelled the lease weeks ago. Instead, he waited until the eve of the Convention to inflict the greatest disruption.

“Mayor Turner has publicly stated his intention to interrupt the Convention process and disenfranchise Republicans around the state. Mayor Turner changed Health Department guidelines to impose additional requirements on the Republican Party that he did not impose on other organizations.

“Mayor Turner’s disdain for all Republicans is evident by the divisive rhetoric he uses to describe conservatives and our efforts to participate in the electoral process.

“Make no mistake, our State Convention will continue unimpeded. If necessary, we will protect the rights of our delegates and complete the electoral business delegated to us by the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the state of Texas using online technologies.

“In the coming days, we will evaluate all legal remedies available to us to fight back against the unequal treatment Mayor Turner has chosen to inflict on conservatives. We will keep our delegates, alternates, and other convention attendees posted as we pursue those remedies.”

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