As Houston becomes a fast-growing COVID-19 hot spot, Mayor Sylvester Turner has cancelled the State Republican Convention that was supposed to be held there this month. An estimated 6,000 people were expected to attend, and Turner’s decision comes after a weekslong controversy about whether or not the mayor had the power to intervene.
Houston’s health authority, David Persse, called the event “a clear and present danger to the health and well-being of Houstonians.”
University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus told Texas Standard on Thursday that he expected the event to ultimately be canceled, given the rising number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Texas. He said after much debate, it was the organization Houston First that manages events at the George R. Brown Convention Center that was the catalyst for the decision to cancel.
“[Houston First] was the impetus to shut it down, thinking that there was, effectively, a serious epidemic problem,” Rottinghaus said.
To some, Turner’s decision to cancel the event just days before it was set to start appeared politically motivated against Republicans. But Rottinghaus said Turner delayed his decision precisely to avoid appearing politically biased.
— Texas GOP (@TexasGOP) July 8, 2020
Many Texas Republicans wanted the convention to go forward in person as a “symbolic stand” that they weren’t deterred by the pandemic. Rottinghaus said that the most conservative members of the party doubt the seriousness of the pandemic, and believe the risk of COVID-19 has been overblown by the media.
“Something like 70-plus percent of extremely conservative Republicans … think that making the economy better and putting it back on track is more important,” he said.
But not all Texas Republicans supported going forward with the event. Houston Congressman Dan Crenshaw tweeted that Turner’s decision was “a prudent move for public health.”
This is a prudent move for public health.
I’m glad Mayor Turner finally stepped in to make this call, which also means the TX GOP will not be on the hook for half a million dollars for cancelling the event – as they would have been if asked to cancel it themselves. https://t.co/m8lKoPN0rw
— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) July 8, 2020
What’s more, some speakers had already planned to attend the event virtually for fear of risking their health.
Rottinghaus said the push to hols an in-person convention was as much to show party unity as it was an effort to shift the nation’s focus away from the virus during the election. President Donald Trump has been widely criticized for his response to the pandemic, and Rottinghaus said if the election becomes about that one issue, Republicans have a problem.
“That creates all kinds of complications for them winning in November,” he said.
Montgomery County, north of Houston, has offered to host the event. It’s unclear if that would happen, but the county judge there has “welcomed them with open arms,” Rottinghaus said.
Web story by Caroline Covington.