June 23, 2020
State Convention on Track in New Epicenter
with Loyalists Armed for Protest Protection
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Governor Greg Abbott appeared to be giving a green light for the Texas Republican Convention to take place next month in the midst of a major coronavirus resurgence when he gave local governments the authority on Tuesday to sharply restrict large outdoor gatherings without a word about indoor events.
Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey wasted no time in the wake of Abbott's executive order revision to inform fellow activists that the state convention that's set to get under way in Houston three weeks from now will go on as planned in an area that's quickly becoming the new epicenter for COVID-19 in the U.S.
Harris County will a hot destination in more ways than one in light of the state's recording of 1,994 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours - an increase of 68 percent over the previous record that had been set there two days before when it cracked the four-digit mark for the first time.
The virus broke the state's daily new infection count record on Tuesday for the fifth time in the past week with 5,489 more positive tests as the nation's number one hot spot for the past two weeks. The Texas record for hospitalizations fell for the 11th day in a row amid a growing shortage of intensive care beds.
But Dickey said the party would be ready for the challenge in a George R. Brown Conventer Center that has been redesigned in line with social distancing standards and other protocols with the exception of masks that the GOP has no plans to require or to prohibit at the biennial gathering that opens for business on July 16.
Speaking to party loyalists during a teleconference town meeting on Tuesday night, Dickey downplayed the prospects for problems with protesters outside the arena that the party isn't expecting but willl be prepared to deal with if necessary.
But Dickey declared that the state GOP convention in Texas would be the safest place in the world to be with delegates and others in the convention hall allowed and encouraged to bring their guns and carry them openly if they want.
The Texas GOP Convention will be the largest public gathering to be held during the worst pandemic in more than a century if it draws more than 6,000 people - the approximate size of the crowd that turned out for President Donald Trump's rally last weekend in Tulsa in an arena with more than 19,000 seats.
The potential for demonstrations outsidse the convention hall in downtown Houston is massive as a centralized location that would give the social justice movement a major national showcase and stage to send a message to Trump. The president contended that the Tulsa turnout had been low as a consequence of radical anarchists who were outside the arena doing evil deeds.
Anticipating the possibility that the protesters who Trump referred to as a left-wing mob could show up in Houston, state GOP officials have enlisted a former Secret Service agent for Texan George W. Bush to coordinate security at the upcoming event in the Bayou City. Dickey didn't mention in the convention briefing tonight that the youngest of the two Bush presidents who served as the Texas governor has revealed that he won't be voting for Trump this fall.
Some GOP state lawmakers have said that Dickey had been warning privately that the convention that had been scheduled for late May originally could have to be cancelled as a result of the massive spiking that Abbott had not anticipated when he was claiming in May that the state had harnessed it.
But Dickey said in the virtual meeting that the Republican Party of Texas had "let nothing stand in its way" in terms election-year plans and goals in the state that President Donald Trump has to win more than any other in November for a successful re-election bid.
Dickey said that the state party would comply with state and local requirements on social distancing with the meeting hall at the George R. Brown Convention Center redesigned that particular protocol complete with hand sanitizer stations and a thermal entranceway that will take the body temper of individuals who pass through it without touching them.
Dickey assured the party faithful that the party would not be requiring anyone to wear a mask at the convention or prohibiting them from covering their faces if they choose. But Dickey acknowledged that the state party's position on convention masks could be irrelevant if Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo extends a local face-covering mandate that applies to businesses and expires July 2 unless she extends it.
Even then there's no guarantee that Abbott won't overrule local mask edicts like he did at the end of April when he mistakenly thought that the virus had been contained in Texas after some state-sponsored testing in selective rural hot spots. But Abbott has pleaded with Texans to don masks that he's still refusing to mandate statewide after catering for more than a month to hard-line conservatives who oppose all coronavirus restrictions as an affront to freedom regardless of the additional suffering and death that their position guantees.
Abbott had limited large gatherings outside to 500 people before affording cities and counties the right to restrict them to 100. But the governor announced in the initiation of Phase 3 in the Texas reopening early this month that large events could be held at 50 percent capacity.
Texas Republican officials had been tentatively planning to have no more than 750 people on the convention floor at any point in time. But it wasn't clear from the progress report on Zoom tonight if such a limit would be in place for the event.