After the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) voted in a 40-20 decision last week to move forward with the plans of holding an in-person convention in Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner instructed the Houston First Corporation to cancel its contract with the state party.
Houston First operates several convention centers in the city, including the George R. Brown Convention Center where the event was slated to be held.
Earlier on Wednesday morning, Turner asked the city attorney to review the contract between Houston First and the Republican Party of Texas to see if a cancellation was possible.
James Dickey, the current chairman of the party, responded in a press release criticizing Turner’s call for cancellation.
“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, [Turner] is seeking to deny a political Party’s critical electoral function that should be equally protected under the constitution,” said Dickey.
He said that the party was planning to take numerous health precautions for the convention, including taking attendees’ temperatures, providing face masks and touchless hand sanitizer dispensers, and ensuring deep cleanings after each meeting.
Dickey noted an earlier report detailing that under Turner’s earlier executive orders, the mayor would have had the authority to cancel the convention, but he removed that language in an update in late June.
In response to the threat of cancellation on Wednesday morning, Dickey said, “Our legal team is assessing the ability of the City to act at this time in this manner and weighing our legal options.”
“We are prepared to take all necessary steps to proceed in the peaceable exercise of our constitutionally protected rights,” he concluded.
During a press conference a little after 3:00 p.m., though, Turner said that Houston First had already sent a letter to the GOP canceling the convention.
“These are some very serious times, and the public safety of the people attending the convention, the employees, their family members, the people in the City of Houston — the public health concern is first and foremost paramount,” said Turner.
Dr. David Persse, the public health authority at the Houston Health Department, said that “it’s a pretty bad time to have a large gathering.”
“We see locally when we look at the numbers, there’s no indication that we are at a peak,” said Persse. “I would caution people that as we do approach a flattening of the curve, that our destiny is in our own hands.”
According to data published by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), Harris County saw its highest number of new cases on June 23: 1,994.
And since June 27, the seven-day-average of new cases in the county has trended downward.
Turner defended his attendance of massive protests in Houston last month, saying, “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. When people are marching and protesting, no one is making lunch/dinner, cleaning up behind them.”
Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson criticized Turner’s actions saying the Houston mayor’s “hypocritical flip flop on public gatherings is a political stunt.”
“While he joined in massive marches in the streets last month, he has now blocked Republican grassroots activists from peaceably assembling even under the most stringent health safeguards. The Mayor should not abuse power for political ends,” said Simpson.
Unless the Republican Party is able to challenge Houston First’s termination of the contract or find an alternative solution, contingency plans are in place to hold the convention virtually.
The reported notice of termination letter can be found below.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.