On Wednesday afternoon, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner followed through with his statement earlier in the day that he would move to cancel the state GOP’s convention that was set to be held next week in Houston at the George R. Brown Convention Center if the City’s legal team believed the event’s contract allowed them to do so.
Turner announced in a Wednesday press conference that the Republican Party of Texas had been notified Wednesday afternoon that Houston First, the nonprofit that runs the GRB Convention Center on behalf of the City, was cancelling the state party convention set to take place July 16-18 at his behest.
“I have instructed HFC, the Houston First Corporation, to exercise its contractual right to cancel the state Republican party convention due to the pandemic,” Turner said.
The mayor cited a letter sent by Dr. David Persse of the Houston Health Department late last night that called the state GOP’s plan to bring 6,000 delegates to next week’s indoor, in-person convention “a clear and present danger” to attendees, convention workers, staff at nearby restaurants and hotels and the residents of Houston.
“As mayor, I simply cannot ignore these words coming from Dr. Persse,” Turner said.
“This is a very bad time to have a very large gathering,” Dr. Persse said on Wednesday after Turner’s announcement.
The state GOP isn’t taking the cancellation of their massive in-person shindig lying down. In a Wednesday statement released in advance of Mayor Turner’s public announcement that the state GOP convention had been cancelled, Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey denounced Turner and called him a hypocrite while invoking the false parallel of last month’s protests.
“After allowing tens of thousands of protesters to peaceably assemble in the same city, in the same area, without any of the safety precautions and measures we have taken, he is seeking to deny a political Party’s critical electoral function that should be equally protected under the constitution,” Dickey wrote, before listing the various precautions the party was planning to implement at their event, which included providing hand sanitizer and obtaining masks for attendees to use, albeit without any requirement for mask-use from party brass.
Dickey finished by promising that the party would take legal action in response to their event being shut down.
“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,” Dickey’s statement concluded.
Turner explained that after the event contract between the Republican Party of Texas and Houston First was reviewed by the City Attorney and Houston First representatives, they found that due to the included force majeure clause, either group had the ability to terminate the agreement due to extraordinary extenuating circumstances.
Specifically listed as applicable reasons for terminating the agreement were epidemics in the City of Houston as well as emergency declarations by a local government, both of which apply to the current state of affairs within the Houston area amid the dramatically worsening COVID-19 pandemic.
In an impassioned statement, Turner said that part of what prompted him to finally move to cancel the convention himself after the Republican Party of Texas refused to do so themselves was conversations he had with his sister and a member of his staff, who both implored him to think about service workers who would be put at risk were the convention to go forward, and to remember that his own mother was a hotel maid years ago.
“If your mom was alive today working at one of these hotels, would you as the mayor still allow this convention to go forward, and run the risk of infecting your mom?” Turner said in reference to those conversations. “And the answer is no.”
Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson joined Dickey and fellow Republicans in trotting out the now familiar what-about-the-protests line of defense.
“Mayor Turner’s hypocritical flip flop on public gatherings is a political stunt,” Simpson said in a statement posted to Twitter. “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,” Simpson said.
Turner had shied away from taking this step earlier, correctly predicting that it could be construed as a political move for him, a Democrat, to shut down a Republican event. He also responded to complaints that he allowed marches such as those calling for change following George Floyd's death by saying those gatherings were in the out of doors as opposed to three days of meetings where people will spend most of their time together indoors for hours upon hours.
Other groups that had major events scheduled in the last few weeks such as the Pride Parade voluntarily cancelled their events, Turner said. But the state GOP stood firm, its officers insisting they had the proper precautions in place to allow their event to proceed, despite the rising number of coronavirus cases in the state.
“The answer was if you’re not going to do it,” Turner continued, “I’m not going to abdicate my role as the mayor of this city to protect the health, safety and welfare of every single person, including the least of people who don’t have insurance, and who need their jobs and who are on the front lines.”
“This convention is not moving forward, and it’s because of the public health risks that it poses,” Turner concluded.
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