Each election cycle, political parties convene at their state conventions to elect party leaders, finalize their party platform, and prepare for the national convention.
This year, the emergence of COVID-19 has complicated these plans and highlighted differences in responses to the virus. Texas Democrats opted to hold their convention virtually, while Texas Republicans are embroiled in a battle with local leaders over their ability to continue with plans to hold an in-person convention in Houston.
Here’s a look at the timeline of the events surrounding the Republican Party of Texas’ (RPT) convention debacle.
March 13: Governor Greg Abbott declares a state of emergency for all Texas counties in response to the spread of the coronavirus.
March 16: On a conference call with Texas GOP members and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Chairman James Dickey announces that the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) will vote on moving the state convention to July, postponing from the originally planned dates in May.
March 26: Texas Democrats decide to hold their convention virtually, beginning to draw a stark contrast between the approaches of the two major parties.
April 4: The SREC officially votes to reschedule the convention to July 13-18.
June 1: The online Texas Democratic Convention begins, and continues until June 6.
June 30: As public pressure to pivot to a virtual convention mounts, Republican lawmakers, including state Reps. James White (R-Hillister) and Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg) begin commenting on the potential.
On @TexasGOP considering virtual convention, @James_E_White says if TX can't reopen, "either the Texas Republican Convention is not willing to impose upon itself [what] Texas [GOP] leadership has imposed on small businesses, [and] should…find other options virtually." #txlege pic.twitter.com/cbBWXEVS8a
— McKenzie Taylor (@McKenzLTaylor) July 1, 2020
“I am against an online version for the RPT convention. We will be criticized by the Democrats and the liberal media no matter what we do,” said Biedermann. “They were not concerned about the mass gathering of protesters with no regard for safety protocols. The RPT can follow CDC guidelines and protocols while respecting party deadlines and bylaws.”
July 2: The SREC votes 40-20 to move forward with the party’s existing plans to hold the convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.
Dickey releases a statement outlining the health and safety precautions the party plans to implement at the convention, including:
- Expanded seating to accommodate for social distancing
- Deep-cleaning of meeting areas between gatherings
- Access to hand sanitizer stations
- Sponsor-donated masks available for attendees
July 3: In response to the SREC’s decision, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner responds with a statement of his own.
“[T]he City will decide what steps must be taken to protect the health & safety of employees, visitors, and the general public. At the very minimum, masks will be a requirement for attendance and service,” said Turner.
July 6: Turner announces that he will be sending a letter to the Texas GOP asking the party to cancel their in-person convention plans.
“If they are going to host an in-person convention, they must follow the governor’s guidelines, including wearing a face mask and maintain social distancing,” tweeted Turner.
“Health inspectors will be on-site for the entire convention to ensure all guidelines are being followed. If they are not, the inspectors have the authority to shut down the convention.”
July 7: During a virtual town hall, Dickey says he has no intention of canceling plans. Texas GOP staff confirms that elected officials who were originally slotted to speak at the convention in-person would address the crowd virtually.
July 8: At a city council meeting, Turner says he’s working to find a way to cancel the GOP’s contract with the convention center. Meanwhile, Dickey doubles down on his resolve to move forward.
Later that day, Turner instructs the Houston First Corporation to cancel its contract with the Republican Party of Texas, essentially canceling the convention itself.
In a Facebook video, Judge Mark Keough offers Montgomery County as an alternative location to hold the convention.
July 9: The Texas GOP files a lawsuit against the City of Houston and Mayor Turner over the cancelation of the convention contract.
Then, a Harris County District Court denies the party’s request for relief. Dickey says they’ll move forward with their planned appeal and take matters up with the Texas Supreme Court (SCOTX).
July 10: The RPT files a petition for a writ of mandamus with SCOTX in an attempt to force the City of Houston and Turner to move forward with the contract.
July 11: Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issues an opinion to SCOTX asserting that the cases filed by the RPT should be dismissed by the courts.
July 13: In-person RPT committee meetings begin in Houston at an alternative venue, marking the preliminary stages of the convention before the delegates are scheduled to arrive.
SCOTX follows Paxton’s lead and denies the RPT’s request for relief, arguing that the “force majeure” provision found in the contract does indeed provide a way out for the involved parties and while the RPT does have “constitutional rights to hold a convention and engage in electoral activities…those rights do not allow it to simply commandeer use of the Center.”
Justice John Devine writes the dissenting opinion, stating, “Exercising our mandamus jurisdiction here to compel Houston First and the other defendants to host the Republican Party’s convention is not only appropriate—but necessary—to preserve the sanctity of contract and our elections.”
The Harris County District Court also determines that it will not compel the city to follow through on the original contract.
In the evening, the SREC convenes and overwhelming votes to move the convention online in a 53-4 vote.
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McKenzie DiLullo serves as Senior Editor at The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Capitol Director during the 85th legislative session before moving to Fort Worth to manage Senator Konni Burton’s campaign. In her free time, you might find her enjoying dog memes, staring at mountains, or proctoring personality tests.