June 24, 2020
GOP Governor Could Find Way to Pull Plug
on State Convention He'd Planned to Allow
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Governor Greg Abbott could be setting himself up to get the blame for the cancellation of the professional, college and high school football seasons if he allows the Texas Republican Convention to go off as scheduled next month in the heart of a harrowing new coronavirus wave.
Abbott had given his blessings on Tuesday for the Texas GOP to proceed with the convention as planned in downtown Houston despite an alarming spike that was getting under way before he unveiled the third phase of the state's reopening early this month.
State Republican Chairman James Dickey promptly announced in a teleconference meeting with activists last night that the biennial gathering that had been set initially in May would be taking place in person after the governor left indoor events out of an executive order that gives local officials the authority to impose strict limitations on large gatherings outside.
The governor's refusal to block the state convention sparked speculation in conservative circles that Abbott was trying to help Dickey who ostensibly thinks his re-election bid for the partisan leadership post could be doomed without the advantages an incumbent party chair has as the director of a conventional convention.
Dickey had rallied behind Abbott in the early stages of the pandemic when protests were erupting over the governor's extension of local lockdowns statewide. Dickey's endorsement of Abbott's initial guidance after the initial outbreak in Texas in March had ammunition to Allen West and his supporters on the right as the chief and possibly only challenger to the current state chair's bid for a new two-year term in an election among delegates.
But Abbott finally acknowledged on Wednesday that the state had been besieged by a "massive outbreak" with more than 11,000 new cases of COVID-19 after assuring the public throughout the month of May that the state had contained the contagion before attempting to minimize its severity for the past three weeks. Harris County has accounted for amost one-third of the statewide increase with a record 1,994 new infections reported there on Tuesday before the count it its second highest point today.
Abbott repeated a promise at a press conference on Monday that Texas hospitals would have more than enough space to accommodate virus patients - and he made the same claim in television interviews today even though it didn't appear to be true based on shortages that some areas already are experiencing.
Abbott indicated that new sets of restrictions could be forthcoming from local officials who couldn't be imposing them without his official permission. But the governor has weakened the ability of cities and counties to enforce new local orders by removing the threat of jail from an order that had shuttered businesses temporarily in April. The governor gutted the closure decree early last month in an apparent moment of panic when he learned the Texas Supreme Court was going to order the release of a Dallas beauty salon owner from the county jail after she'd goaded county authorities into arresting her.
Abbott faces a more critical decision now as the lone state official who has the singular power to shut down the state party convention unless he gives a pair of Democrats in Hidalgo County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner the authority to pull the plug on themselves.
The governor ideally would probably rather have Dickey get the State Republican Executive Committee to vote to call the convention off after investing a substantial sum of resources into planning for the event that's been billed for years as the largest political convention in the U.S.
Abbott has preferred to have local leaders make the toughest calls like he did again last week when he gave them the nod to start requiring businesses to enforce mask orders with the threat of fines for failing to do so. But the second coronavirus surge was already out of control here by the time the governor informed local officials that they could have been mandating masks all along after leading them to believe just the opposite.
The state GOP has been planning to comply with a current Abbott order that limits major indoor activities to 50 percent capacity. That would mean that only half of an estimated 15,000 delegates who the party expects to converge on the Bayou City could be on the convention floor at any one time.
Dickey told activists that they'll have the option to cover their faces but that there would be no "mask shaming" for people who choose. But Hidalgo could change the mask dynamics if she extends an order that's set to expire in early July - a move that's all but guaranteed at this point.
An in-person in the midst of the second surge could be a death trap for some of the many the older participants in the state convention. Another major summer outbreak or continuation of the current wave could leave the National Football League and college conferences with no choice but to cancel or to delay the upcoming seasons.
Abbott's plans to have Texas kids back at school in the fall could also be in serious jeopardy if the state hasn't found a way to get the virus under control before August.
A scraping of the plans for an in-person convention would force the state GOP to hold the event that's required by law on the Internet like the Texas Democratic Party did in June.