Just hours before sunrise on Monday morning, the Republican Party of Texas chose former Florida congressman, conservative rabble rouser and Texas transplant Allen West to be their new chairman at the end of another chaotic day of the party’s virtual convention.
West declared victory about half an hour before incumbent party chair James Dickey conceded in a 4:16 a.m. Facebook post. Dickey dropped out of the race while votes for chairman were still being cast by the state GOP’s Senate district caucuses after he realized that West was set to carry a majority of them and would earn significantly more than the three district caucus votes he needed to force a floor vote, a signal that West was on track to win by a landslide.
“I just want to say how truly humbled I am by this honor, and that I will work hard for Texas and Texans,” West said on Facebook early Monday morning.
West’s victory over the more genteel Dickey, who previously led the Travis County GOP, was the latest signal that state Republicans intend to respond to 2018’s loss of 12 Texas House seats to Democrats and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s narrow victory over Beto O’Rourke by lurching even further toward a combative, hard right-wing posture. It was also a referendum on the slapdash, glitch-filled online convention that Dickey presided over this past weekend.
From 2011 to 2013, West served a single term representing Florida’s 22nd Congressional District before losing his reelection bid. Prior to serving in Congress, West was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army before he was forced to retire from the military after pleading guilty to assaulting an Iraqi prisoner in 2003. West moved to Texas in 2013 to lead a conservative think tank in Dallas that went out of business just three years later.
No stranger to controversy, West has gained notoriety for his hard-right politics and incendiary commentary over the years. He accused former president Barack Obama and Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder of being “vile and disgusting racists” — an odd line of attack for someone who’s said that the black community “was stronger” and had “better education opportunities” when segregation was the law of the land — and wrote on his website that “Barack Hussein Obama is an Islamist” who doesn’t have American values.
West’s reputation for Islamophobia proceeds him; He’s claimed that Islam “is not a religion,” and a post to West’s Facebook page after Donald Trump hired James Mattis as defense secretary praised Mattis for his alleged willingness to “exterminate” Muslims.
“We’re disgusted but not surprised that Texas Republicans chose a certified racist conservative hardliner like Allen West as their new chairman,” said Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman in a statement Monday. “West is everything that is wrong with the Republican Party and brings to light their failures on building an inclusive, welcoming party that is deliberate and thoughtful in handling crisis situations.”
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Previously, state Democrats had sarcastically endorsed Dickey for reelection based on his handling of the state party convention, which he and a majority of the Texas GOP executive committee were dead-set on having in-person in Houston at George R. Brown Convention Center despite the fact that Houston is experiencing one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation.
After Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner cancelled the convention, Dickey and the Republican Party of Texas took part in multiple lawsuits against the City of Houston to try and get permission to hold their event in-person, all of which ultimately came up unsuccessful.
Dickey presided over the virtual convention which began on Thursday, although a plethora of technical difficulties caused numerous delays and led the important vote for party chairman to take place in the wee hours of Monday morning when the entire convention was supposed to be wrapped-up by day’s end on Saturday.
Due to these widespread tech problems, state Republican delegates voted late Sunday night to hold a second party convention at a later date and time to conclude their unfinished business of adopting a new policy platform and debating party rule changes. Where and when their next stab at a convention will take place and whether or not it would be online or in-person is still up in the air as of Monday afternoon.