Texas GOP Convention Likely Going Virtual, Lawyer for Party Says

The Texas Republican Party will probably move most of its convention activities online this week, after a state judge refused to force Houston to host the party’s convention in person in the middle of a pandemic hot zone.

Kevin Fulton, a lawyer for the group, said late Monday that there just isn’t enough time before the convention begins Thursday to ask a higher court to overrule a decision that Houston’s mayor acted legally in canceling the party’s convention contract last week.

In pulling the plug on the meeting at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, cited health risks that the 6,000 anticipated attendees posed to one another and to local convention, hotel and restaurant workers. Turner said the rapidly spreading coronavirus triggered the force majeure escape clause in the contract. The state GOP leader sued, claiming it was a political act to rob Texas Republicans of their free speech and assembly rights.

The GOP said the move by Turner, who is African American, contrasts with his support for Black Lives Matter protests that drew 60,000 marchers to Houston’s streets last month. Turner has said the outdoor protests didn’t pose the same risk as the convention.

Houston continues to set records for new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations almost daily, and local intensive care beds are rapidly filling up with Covid-19 patients. At a video hearing on the issue Monday, the city’s chief health officer testified that he recommended Houston cancel the convention altogether. He said it could become a “super-spreader” event, given the latest World Health Organization guidance that virus particles can remain airborne indoors for long periods.

The Texas GOP’s executive committee must still vote Monday night on officially moving the meeting online. The group had worked out extensive cleaning and social-distancing rules with Houston convention staff that it believed would let delegates safely use the 50,000-person convention center. But party leaders said in a statement on their website that that they’ve been making contingency plans to hold a virtual convention since the pandemic gained momentum several months ago.

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