‘Will continue unimpeded': Texas GOP leaders cry foul after Houston cancels in-person convention at GRB

HOUSTON – Swift and scathing reactions are pouring in from Republican party leaders around Texas after the city of Houston canceled the Texas GOP convention that was slated to take place next week at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

On Wednesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, announced that he instructed the Houston First Corporation to “exercise its right contractually in cancelling the State’s Republican Convention that was set to take place next week at GRB.” The city’s lawyers exercised provisions in the contract that the Texas GOP signed to rent the downtown space for the three-day convention that was expected to draw crowds of roughly 6,000.

Turner said the city’s move to cancel the in-person event was not political.

“No one wanted to make this even appear to be political. This is a political convention, and the last thing you want to do in the midst of a pandemic is to politicize it or to make it seem as though you’re going out of your way to close the door,” he said.

‘Will continue unimpeded'

Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey said in a statement Wednesday night that he didn’t believe the convention was canceled for the health and safety of Houstonians or attendees.

“We made every effort to conduct our convention in a safe manner, working cooperatively with the Convention Center, going well beyond the requirements of the Center’s health safety plan,” Dickey wrote in part in his statement. “If Mayor Turner’s motivations were pure, he could have cancelled the lease weeks ago. Instead, he waited until the eve of the Convention to inflict the greatest disruption.”

Turner’s actions Wednesday come after weeks of back-and-forth with the Texas GOP and as coronavirus cases continue to surge in Texas and in Houston and Harris County. The Houston mayor previously sent a letter to both Gov. Greg Abbott and made a public plea to the party to consider moving to a virtual event.

Dickey further claimed that Turner changed the Houston Health Department’s health guidelines “to impose additional requirements on the Republican Party that he did not impose on other organizations.”

“Mayor Turner’s disdain for all Republicans is evident by the divisive rhetoric he uses to describe conservatives and our efforts to participate in the electoral process,” Dickey wrote. “Make no mistake, our State Convention will continue unimpeded. If necessary, we will protect the rights of our delegates and complete the electoral business delegated to us by the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the state of Texas using online technologies.”

Finally, he said that in the coming days, his party will “evaluate all legal remedies available to us to fight back against the unequal treatment Mayor Turner has chosen to inflict on conservatives.”

‘Open for business'

Soon after Turner announced the cancelation of the GOP convention, Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough invited his party to hold its convention in the county.

“It has just come to my attention that the city of Houston has canceled the Republican Party convention. That is amazing to me. And the reason that’s amazing to me is that just four weeks ago, there was no mention of any problems about 60,000 people gathering together to protest,” he said. “(There was) no mention of handwashing, no mention of social distancing and no mention of wearing masks or any of that.”

Keough said Montgomery County was “open for business” and they would be “great hosts.” He said they would put no political pressure on the GOP and his only ask was that the people who attended the convention follow the same health guidelines that they’d agreed to follow at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

‘Political stunt'

Officials with the Harris County GOP called Turner’s move “hypocritical,” in a tweet soon after the announcement was made.

“Mayor Turner’s hypocritical flip flop on public gatherings is a political stunt,” they wrote. “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,” said Harris County GOP Chairman Paul Simpson.

Abbott told KPRC 2 in an exclusive interview Tuesday that he believed the party leaders would make a final decision keeping public health and safety in mind. As of 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Abbott had not yet publicly reacted to the news of the convention being canceled.