A week before the scheduled date, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner canceled the Texas GOP’s annual convention in Houston citing public health concerns amid the intensifying COVID-19 pandemic.
It was undeniably the right move for Houston, where mounting cases have stretched thin the capacity of intensive care beds. It was also the right move for the estimated 6,000 Republican delegates who would have traveled hundreds of miles to virtually hear from party leaders like Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, only to return to their respective cities as potential carriers of the virus.
On Thursday, the Republican Party of Texas filed a 22-page lawsuit in district court against Houston and Turner, attempting to revive their convention and accusing the mayor of canceling the convention with sinister “ideological viewpoint discrimination.”
In their legal jargon-filled lawsuit, Republicans argued Turner had allowed other political assemblies to go on during the pandemic, namely the protest following the police killing of George Floyd.
Of course, in early June around the time of the George Floyd protests, cumulative confirmed cases in Harris County stood around 6,300. As of Thursday, more than 40,000 cases and counting have been reported. Moreover, as cases increased, Turner did not have to step in to cancel political assemblies, like the city’s annual Pride Parade, because the organizers did so voluntarily.
Turner addressed those concerns about the optics of allowing protests against police brutality last month and canceling the Texas GOP convention this month during a Wednesday conference.
“If you want to march outside, you can do that. That’s your First Amendment right,” Turner said. “You don’t need a permit from me.”
Unlike Republicans, Texas Democrats began planning to move their annual in-person convention to a virtual one in March, the same month the pandemic began in earnest and three months in advance of the eventual date. The convention was a smooth sailing success and the party ended up bringing in $1.5 million from grassroots donors during the online convention.
“Republicans should be thanking Mayor Turner, not suing him,” Abhi Rahman, a spokesperson for Texas Democrats, told the Signal. “Republicans are lucky that Mayor Turner was willing to do the right thing, cancel this convention, and save them from themselves. Holding an in-person convention in the middle of a pandemic is dead wrong. Republicans need to suck it up, hold their convention in a safe, socially distant manner, and proactively fight the coronavirus pandemic, instead of following Governor Abbott’s lead and waiting on the sidelines.”
It’s unclear how quickly the local district court hearing the case will act, but if the convention isn’t allowed to go through, Republicans are seeking more than $1,000,000 in monetary relief. The lawsuit is also targeting the Houston First Corporation, the company that manages the George R. Brown Convention Center where the event was meant to be held.
Photo: DOMINICK REUTER/AFP via Getty Images
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org