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Houston Scraps GOP Convention          07/09 06:25

   Houston officials on Wednesday canceled the Texas Republican Party's 
in-person convention, saying the spread of the coronavirus made it impossible 
to hold the event as scheduled.

   HOUSTON (AP) -- Houston officials on Wednesday canceled the Texas Republican 
Party's in-person convention, saying the spread of the coronavirus made it 
impossible to hold the event as scheduled.

   Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city's lawyers exercised provisions in the 
contract that the Texas GOP signed to rent the downtown convention center for a 
three-day event to have started July 16, with committee meetings earlier in the 
week. Turner, a Democrat, previously resisted calls to cancel the convention 
and insisted Wednesday that his decision wasn't driven by politics.

   "The public health concerns outweighed anything else," Turner said.

   State Republican chair James Dickey said the party was weighing its legal 
options and accused Turner of trying to deny the GOP's "critical electoral 
function."

   The fight over whether thousands of Republican supporters will converge on 
downtown Houston as the city's hospitals are overwhelmed is a snapshot of the 
broader political tensions that have underscored Texas' handling of the 
pandemic.

   Gov. Greg Abbott, the state's top Republican, had publicly deferred to state 
party leaders who last week voted by a 2-to-1 margin to go forward with an 
in-person event, though he had not committed to attending the convention.

   Abbott has faced pressure from both sides while managing a coronavirus 
crisis that has surged in recent weeks. In May, he lifted restrictions on 
gatherings and began to reopen business over the objections of Democratic 
leaders in several Texas cities. The numbers of confirmed virus cases and 
deaths began to spiral in June and reached new daily highs this week.

   Last week, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he was through listening to 
the nation's top infectious disease expert, saying Dr. Anthony Fauci "doesn't 
know what he's talking about" over comments that some states reopened too fast.

   But even Patrick, who is chairman of Trump's reelection campaign in Texas, 
expressed misgivings about his party pressing forward with the convention.

   The Texas Medical Center, a consortium of Houston hospitals, has moved into 
surge capacity for its intensive-care beds. Texas reported more than 10,000 new 
confirmed cases statewide for the first time on Tuesday. The Texas Medical 
Association had already withdrawn as a convention sponsor and urged organizers 
to cancel.

   The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people 
have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus 
without feeling sick.

   Abbott in recent weeks has moved to close bars again, restrict the size of 
outdoor gatherings, and institute a broad mandate requiring people to wear 
masks in public.

   Dickey said in his statement Wednesday that organizers had planned to 
institute daily temperature scans, provide masks, and install hand sanitizer 
stations. Echoing the criticism among some conservatives to the government's 
coronavirus response, Dickey argued attendees at any convention would have more 
protection than the tens of thousands of protesters who gathered in downtown 
Houston following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white 
police officer pressed his knew into Floyd's neck for nearly eight minutes.

   Turner "does not want Houston to get back to work," Dickey said. "He is not 
able to move forward and rise to these new challenges."

   Speaking Wednesday afternoon, the mayor said he waited to act because he had 
hoped state Republicans would cancel the event on their own.

   He added that he thought of his late mother, who worked as a hotel maid, and 
whether others in her position would face a heightened risk of infection if the 
convention went forward.

   "No one wanted to step in and be the heavy and to say no, and then run the 
risk of being accused of being political," he said. "But if after all of that, 
you still refuse to recognize the public health danger to everyone involved, 
then I am still the mayor."

   If all other efforts for a face-to-face convention fail, Dickey said a 
convention "using online technologies" would be held.

   "In the coming days, we will evaluate all legal remedies available to us to 
fight back against the unequal treatment Mayor Turner has chosen to inflict on 
conservatives. We will keep our delegates, alternates, and other convention 
attendees posted as we pursue those remedies," Dickey said.

   Meanwhile, hours after Turner's announcement, the chief administrative 
official of Montgomery County, in Houston's conservative suburbs, offered to 
host the convention instead.

   The national Republican Party is also pushing to have an in-person 
convention this year, moving the event from Charlotte, North Carolina, to 
Jacksonville, Florida, after North Carolina officials would not provide 
guarantees sought by President Donald Trump. But in recent days, a growing 
number of Republican senators said they would skip the convention.

   Texas Democrats held an online convention in June, and national Democrats 
plan to hold an almost entirely virtual convention in August.

 
 
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