by Daryl Slusher

The City of Houston on Wednesday sent the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) a letter officially canceling the live in person version of next week’s state Republican Convention. The convention was scheduled for July 16-18 in coronavirus hotspot Houston. The letter came from Houston First, the entity that runs the convention center, but the move was led by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. Turner relied on advice from the city’s health authority Dr. David Persse.

Dr Persse wrote in a letter to Mayor Turner that since Memorial Day the Houston area has experienced an “unparalleled and frightening escalation” in coronavirus cases. Speaking specifically to the planned convention, Dr. Persse continued, “Currently, due to the spike in COVID-19 cases, accompanied by a steady rise in hospitalizations since the lifting of the restrictions intended to contain the virus, the risk of COVID-19 spreading at a large in-person gathering in Houston is high. A convention attended by thousands of people will be within the Highest Risk Event Category as it will be difficult (more likely impossible) [parenthetical reference his] to maintain social distancing and appropriate hygiene practices at a convention facility over multiple days attended by people from distant locations.”

Reacting to reports that the cancellation was coming, Republican Party of Texas (RPT) Chair James Dickey released a statement earlier in the day. He listed measures the Republicans were taking intended to prevent spread of COVID:

  • thermal scanning of each attendee when they enter the convention center,
  • limited entryways,
  • revised floor plans for the caucuses and general sessions to accommodate social distancing,
  • established deep cleanings after every meeting,
  • provided contactless registration,
  • established one-way traffic in our exhibit hall,
  • elevated curtain height to create further separation at exhibit booths,
  • provided contactless hand sanitizer, and
  • obtained masks for attendees use.

While perhaps more of a concession to the virus than many other Republicans have made — like, say, President Donald Trump — these measures obviously fell short of convincing the Houston health authority. 

The rest of Chairman Dickey’s statement was less conciliatory. For instance he asked, “Is the City of Houston never going to get back to work? Is the City of Houston never to hold another convention at their cavernous Convention Center? This is an opportunity to show how to get back to work safely and how to hold conventions safely with cutting edge technology.”

There’s a lot that could be said about that statement. For instance, who made Dickey and the Texas Republican Party experts on how to fight the coronavirus? They may not be the best ones to take advice from on that subject. After all it was Governor Greg Abbott ignoring CDC guidelines in his rush to reopen Texas, and placate particularly far right elements, that led to the Texas situation being so out of control in the first place.

And, then there’s Dickey’s question about when Houston will go back to work. Actually, a lot of people in Houston are working very hard right now; to name just a few: doctors; nurses; EMTs; an array of other medical personnel; essential workers at grocery stores; bus drivers; and all the public employees that are keeping the electricity and water on, picking up the garbage and recycling, and protecting public safety.

Dickey also threatened legal action: “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.” 

This statement too cries out for comment, but here we will limit that to briefly examining Dickey’s use of the term “peaceable exercise of our constitutionally protected rights” — particularly his use of the word “peaceable.” Dickey evidently thinks it is a “peaceable” exercise of rights to force low paid convention center workers, hotel and restaurant workers, and numerous others to risk their lives to serve mostly well-heeled Republicans who could easily hold their convention online. He also must think it is “peaceable” for those same Republicans to risk contracting the virus in a City besieged by it, and then chance taking the virus back to communities all over Texas.

Republican Chair Dickey evidently thinks it is a “peaceable” exercise of rights to force low paid convention center workers, hotel and restaurant workers, and numerous others to risk their lives to serve mostly well-heeled Republicans who could easily hold their convention online.

As to the potential legal possibilities for the RPT, that is not yet clear. It seems a long shot, however, that any legal action would result in a quick court order for Houston to host the convention. More likely is legal action after the fact, but, as noted, all of that is uncertain. There is also the distinct possibility that RPT leaders are just bluffing as part of a political strategy. By leaving it to Mayor Turner to cancel the convention, Republican leaders can pander to far right elements that wanted to hold the in person convention, but not actually have to show up and risk contracting the virus. (Yeah, that’s probably it.)

The Political Drama Will Continue

One thing that is certain, however, is that the insistence on holding an in person convention carries an array of political dilemmas for Texas Republicans. That insistence also raises a number of perplexing questions.

For example, do RPT leaders think this is sound political strategy? Are they right? Or could this bizarre episode be an indication that party leaders’ allegiance to the most far right wing elements of their far right wing party, might actually hurt them with the public? We won’t know the answer to any of those for a while.

Then there is the mystery of whether Republicans believe that they are immune to the coronavirus. Along those lines, did they take a close look at the demographics of who is getting COVID-19, and who is most often dying from it, and decide this would be safe for them — and too bad for the workers? (For one fairly thorough look at what I mean there see this article in Politico.)

Mayor Turner saved Governor Abbott the agony of having to decide whether to go in person (unless there is a Republican court victory). Abbott has been vague on whether he would attend in person. He also refused to comment on whether he thought the convention should be held in person.

Then there’s Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. After party leaders from around the state voted 40 to 20 on June 2 to continue with the Houston convention, Patrick announced that he would have voted with the minority against holding the in person convention. That seems an odd position for someone who volunteered to die from coronavirus if that’s what it took to get the economy rolling again. He also volunteered other senior citizens for death as well. 

When announcing that he would have voted for a virtual convention Patrick also said that he would show up at the convention anyway. He likely found this consistent with the bravery he has been praised for on Fox News in volunteering to die. Whatever the case, this would be an ideal time for Patrick to file that personal Do Not Ventilate Order we have been suggesting.

This would be an ideal time for Dan Patrick to file that personal Do Not Ventilate Order we have been suggesting.

Texas Medical Association Weighs In

Another player in the drama leading up to the cancellation was the Texas Medical Association (TMA). The Texas Tribune reported on June 29 that the TMA was a  sponsor of the Republican convention.

The next day TMA President Diana Fite, an emergency physician, sent the Republicans a letter calling on them to hold the convention virtually. When the Republicans instead voted to hold the convention in person anyway the TMA withdrew as a sponsor.

On July 3 Fite issued a statement that read in part, “”While face masks certainly will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in and around the convention, masks alone are not enough. With or without masks, an indoor gathering of thousands of people from all around the state in a city with tens of thousands of active COVID-19 cases poses a significant health risk to conventiongoers, convention workers, health care workers, and the residents of Houston. We are concerned not only for the City of Houston but also for the communities to which the delegates will return, giving the virus easy transportation to parts of Texas that have far fewer cases.”

This causes one to wonder if fewer doctors will vote Republican come November, given not only the RPT’s rejection of the TMA recommendation, but also the Trump Administration’s failure to marshal a serious organized national effort against the virus — including a deadly failure to organize acquisition of enough masks and other personal protective equipment for medical personnel. Just wondering.


For a previous article on the state Republican convention, “Profiles in Lack of Courage – Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Coronavirus,” click here

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